gold medalist Gabby Douglas sat on the stage at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke Monday night, she was asked plenty of questions, but only one that seemed to leave her speechless.
“What’s your favorite ice cream?” a small girl said into a microphone at the front of the stage, eliciting an extended “awww” from the 17-year-old, who won Olympic gold in both the individual all-around and team gymnastics events at the 2012 Summer Games in London.
“Cookies and cream, and cookie dough,” Douglas said after pausing to recompose herself.
Douglas spent the evening on the UNCP campus as part of the university’s Distinguished Speaker Series, and almost every seat in the Givens Performing Arts Center was filled. Attendees came from throughout the region, with the front sections of the auditorium reserved for gymnasts and their families.
The event included an interview between Douglas and UNCP staff member Mike Severy, who emceed the event, a question-and-answer session with audience members, and an autograph signing to end it.
Topics ranged from her pre-meet rituals and early career, to her post-Olympic celebrity status and the role faith plays in her career.
Midway through her interview with Severy, Douglas talked about the rest of the USA gymnastics team from the 2012 Olympics, which also included Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney. She talked about the difficulty of balancing the individual competition element with a team mentality.
“We don’t let it get to us,” she said. “We don’t be like ‘Oh, I wish she would fall so I could take her spot.’ We love each other, so we always support each other in what we do. We always cheer for each other.”
The theme arose again a few questions later, when asked about the all-around finals, which Douglas won gold in. Teammate Raisman also made the finals, but Weiber missed the cut because of a rule that limits a country to two athletes in the finals.
“It was her dream and we were all devastated because the one thing she wanted was to make the all-around finals, and she didn’t make it,” Douglas said. “She was crying so hard and we all felt so bad for her because we’re all sisters.”
She also talked about her near future, which includes training starting in May for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. She said she hopes to pick up some new skills in the next few years.
“It’s going to take a lot, but I’m ready for the challenge ahead,” Douglas said.
The interview was light-hearted at times.
When asked about her personal growth, Douglas quipped, “I’ve grown a little. I’m five foot now.”
Soon afterward, Douglas, who is a junior in high school, was asked by Severy about whether she plans to attend college down the road.
She said she wanted to go to college, but expressed uncertainly of where, prompting Severy to gauge UNCP’s odds.
“You’re saying there’s a chance?” he said, getting a laugh from the crowd.
The audience also gave a variety of questions, such as whether she was nervous at the Olympics, whether she has made any friends from the other countries, and whether she has a boyfriend. One audience member even tried to get a date with the medalist, posing the question “Call me maybe?”
Between laughs, Douglas tried to offer advice for the many young athletes in attendance, encouraging them to not give up when facing adversity.
“I’ve said this 1,000 times but I’m going to say it one more, but just don’t let anyone stop you from what you want to accomplish. If I had quit, I would not have had this opportunity,” she said. “Always keep fighting and keep pushing for 100 percent and you can do it. Anything is possible.”
Micki Bowman, a sophomore at Lumberton High School, was among those who came to the event with friends and watched Douglas sign autographs for a long line of fans.
“I’ve seen her on TV so much, and just to see her in person, it doesn’t seem real,” she said.
It didn’t keep Bowman from leaving the event inspired though.
“She emphasized that your dreams can come true if you follow them,” Bowman said.