Three-time Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas is no stranger to the limelight. The former gymnast, currently promoting Smoothie King's new hydration watermelon smoothies, joined The Big Lead to talk about dealing with the media on the big stage in the wake of Naomi Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open and how those training for the Summer Games will have to adapt in a time of great uncertainty.
TBL: How have you found ways to be a role model and be in the front of people's minds as time has gone on? What's the process been like for you?
GD: The process has been eye-opening. I do a lot through social media. I am hoping to do even more coming up soon. Social media is so grand and so big and so loud.
TBL: The intensity of the public spotlight has increased in recent years. The biggest story in sports right now is Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open. In your experience, when you had to deal with the crush of the media, how did you acclimate to that and how challenging was it?
GD: It was very hard because the media can be very brutal. You have so many voices, not only media but outside people who want to have opinions on things and just completely rip you apart. I can only speak from my experience, but it's hard. A lot of times I had to fast from my phone. I was on my phone and a lot of those comments and stories did get to me. And I already had so much on my plate with competing and everyday life. I would just not go on my phone and not read anything because it's a lot.
TBL: It seems like the challenge to be locked-in and with a smile on your face all the time is not realistic and yet there's no room to have, not even a bad day, but an average day where you're not super-excited for the public. Do you have to find your own way to get to a special place to put on that face?
GD: I think it's so important that you mention that because life is not all butterflies and sunshine. Look at the time we live in now, it's a whole pandemic and it's serious. It's put so many things into perspective. I am so grateful for what I do have. Not all the time is going to be smiling and presenting — you're going to have hard days because that's part of life. But for me I've learned to use those hard days and really learn from those experiences. I think about how I can use those hard days to my advantage, to fuel me to something greater instead of staying in a dark place. I want to use that and grow from it.
TBL: There's so much uncertainty coming up with the Olympics and I don't think anyone really knows what's going to happen. For the athletes training, that has to be an added challenge. Can you imagine what it must be like to have these unusual circumstances on top of the challenge of putting four years of work into one event?
GD: Honestly, I can't imagine it because I've never been through it. Speaking as someone whose been to the Olympics twice and been an athlete my whole life, it's hard. That would be hard. This is our life. This is something that we train so hard for so for something to be so wavering is very hard. It's a different time. I've never had to train with my mask on. I recently did The Masked Dancer and dancing with the mask on it feels like there's no oxygen and it's very hard.
TBL: How do you think athletes will find their comfort in this situation? Can you offer any advice? How did you find comfort at each competition?
GD: From a very young age I've been trained to adapt in any situation. Whether the bars are too loose or the floor is too hard, I've been trained to adapt. Punch harder. Get more chalk. For me, I've been told it is what it is. You just have to do it. I know with every single person and they adapt how they want to. I know with athletes, when it's go time, it's go time.
TBL: Give me your top three times to drink a Smoothie.
GD: Before a workout, so your body has energy. Post-workout and snack.
TBL: What's No. 1, though? We need these rankings official.
GD: I would say pre-workout because your body needs something to fuel you.
TBL: How do you want to keep introducing yourself to the public? What do you want people to think about when they see Gabby Douglas in 2021?
GD: I guess conquer, if you will. I look back on my life ... there's been so many situations where I look back and wonder how I overcame them. I tell people that I want my story and experience to inspire. To look and say if she can overcome that, then I can too.
TBL: How often do you take time to reflect on all that?
GD: Every day. Every single day. My life hasn't been completely easy. I've had so many hard times, hard experiences.
TBL: How would you want to share that story? Is that something people could be looking forward to in the future?
GD: 100 percent. I would say to stay tuned for even more from me because there's a lot to unpack.