Olympics | Women's gymnastics

Olympic champion Gabby Douglas has NWI on its feet

2012-08-02T22:25:00Z 2012-08-04T00:17:03Z Olympic champion Gabby Douglas has NWI on its feetBy Al Hamnik and Lindsay Machak Times staff writers nwitimes.com

GARY | Excitement and pure joy rattled a local bar late Thursday as the family of Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle "Gabby" Douglas watched her take the floor.

Her grandfather, Theodore Hawkins, didn't know whether to sit, stand, jump for joy or run around the block shouting "USA! USA!"

"Oh, man. I'm so proud it's a crying shame," said the 1963 Roosevelt grad.

Gabby, 16, is the second female African-American U.S. gymnast to ever make the team.

Her grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins and family watched the competition from Joe Jackson's H & J's Sports Bar on Grant Street in Gary.

Booming rounds of applause filled the bar as Douglas completed the vault.

Patricia Mason, Hawkins' sister, was beaming with pride.

"This is a wonderful thing," she said. "I knew she could do it. We're so happy."

Mason, 70, of Hazel Crest, said when she found out her great-niece had won the gold medal, she couldn't do anything but scream.

She and her siblings, including Hawkins, couldn't keep from smiling and hugging one another Thursday night.

"All these years, I've been going to all her competitions and now it's finally paid off for her," Hawkins said. "I'm happy for her, I'm happy for my daughter, and I'm happy for (Gabby's) sister and brother.

"I'm just overwhelmed."

Gabby and her mother, Natalie Hawkins, live in Virginia Beach, Va. Gabby was born there but has visited her grandfather in Gary on several occasions.

"We never saw this coming," Hawkins said. "A lot of kids go into gymnastics but a lot of them don't keep that dream alive. But our grandbaby made it come alive."

In an unusual coincidence, Theodore Hawkins and the father of former Gary gymnastics star Diane Durham belong to the same AMVETS post and live near each other in Merrillville.

Durham had an illustrious career before being injured on vault at the 1984 Olympics Trials and failing to make the team.

"My grandbaby has stayed very humble," Hawkins said. "She's 16 years old and has had an ultimate goal in life since she was about 4 or 5 — to be a gymnast — which she has conquered.

"I call her my 'little acrobat' and every time my daughter brought her up (to Gary), I'd take her around to my family and show ’em what she can do."

Hawkins said Douglas was able to do back flips, cartwheels and walk on her hands before she was grade-school age.

"She wanted to get out one time, told her mother she wanted to quit," Hawkins recalled. "But my other granddaughter, Ariel, told her sister that if you do and you're not hurt or nothing, you'll probably regret you didn't stay in it.

"She stayed in it and now she's the best in the world."

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