GARY | Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas greeted Gary high schoolers Monday with words of advice.
"Anything is possible," the 16-year-old said. "Don't ever give up. Don't let anyone stop you."
Douglas and her mother Natalie Hawkins were guests of honor at a mother-daughter luncheon to kick off the Barden Gary Foundation scholarship program.
Students from Wirt, West Side, Lew Wallace, Thea Bowman, Roosevelt and Calumet high schools filled a banquet room in the Moraine Student Center of Indiana University Northwest for the event, while college students milled outside hoping to catch a glimpse of the 4-foot-11-inch athlete who captured world attention at the Summer Olympics in London.
In a soft voice, Douglas thanked Gary for supporting her.
"It's so great to be in my mother's hometown," she said. "It's where we went every Thanksgiving, and had the best sweet potato pie."
Natalie Hawkins is from Gary.
Douglas was born in Virginia and started training in gymnastics there. She won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions as part of the U.S. Women's Gymnastics team in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Douglas said in a question and answer session with students that she and her teammates had only enough time to jump for joy when they won the gold, but then had to shift focus to remaining competitions.
Later, they indulged in a rare visit to a fast food restaurant.
"I had an Egg McMuffin at McDonalds," Douglas said.
Douglas said her favorite gymnastics events are floor exercise, "where I can show my personality," and the uneven bars "where I can apply my skills and show my beauty and grace."
Aniqua Chatman, a senior and class valedictorian at Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy, said she was star-struck at meeting Douglas.
Douglas' accomplishments "mean a lot," Chatman said. "It encourages me and lets me know that if she can do it so can I."
The Barden Gary Foundation has awarded 139 scholarships valued at a total $340,000 in six years, foundation president Chareice White said.