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Gold medalist Gabby Douglas visits Va. Beach
Gold medalist Gabby Douglas visits Va. Beach

By Sarah Hutchins
The Virginian-Pilot
© September 19, 2012


Kids cut class and adults stood in the rain Tuesday to spend a minute - maybe less - with hometown hero and Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas.

Hundreds of people lined up in front of the AT&T store off Virginia Beach Boulevard near Town Center, where the gold medalist was participating in a meet-and-greet and encouraging people to take the "It Can Wait" pledge against texting and driving.

Fans brought cereal boxes, newspaper clippings, leotards and more for the athlete to autograph.

"Oh, my goodness," Douglas said as a man set a large portrait of the Olympian on the signing table.

Store employees and a security guard tried to move the line along as fans lingered to snap just one more photo with the star.

For many, the appearance was a chance to say congratulations and thanks.

Rachel Barbee, 11, and Aliyah Franklin, 9, aspiring gymnasts from Newport News, practiced flips in the parking lot while they waited for the event to start. It was Douglas, their mothers added, who inspired them to pursue their dreams to the next level.

"She came from Virginia, so once I saw her, I started looking up to her," Rachel said.

In an interview with The Virginian-Pilot, Douglas said she'll give her fans even more to look forward to as she continues to train in Iowa with the hope of competing in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Right now, she said, that's her only set plan. The 16-year-old said she hasn't had time to think about college or any other aspirations.

Douglas also said she hasn't talked with former teammates or coaches from a local gym since she described past bullying and racism there during an August television interview with Oprah Winfrey.

"No regrets," she said of the interview. "I mean, everything has just been fine now, so I'm kinda a happy camper."

Douglas and her fans were all smiles at the AT&T store. Cellphone cameras snapped pictures of the gold medalist, and children walked away with star-struck grins. A group of 15-year-old girls from Virginia Beach jumped and danced in line when they got close enough to see Douglas.

"She's around our age and she went to the Olympics," Cameron Cashwell said.

"We were rooting for her the whole time," added Abigail Wauhop.

Some parents, like the mother of Grace Karol, even let their children miss class for the afternoon signing session.

Douglas "showed me that no matter how big your dreams are, you can go for it," said Grace, of Chesapeake.

Like many of the aspiring athletes at the signing, Grace said Douglas has pushed her to take her sport to the next level.

"I want to go to the Olympics for volleyball," she said.

"I definitely will try."

Sarah Hutchins, 757-222-5131,

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