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douglas A 16-year-old girl, her gymnastics, and a chance to compete in the 2012 Olympics.


iowa experience L

ike the cornstalks she could monitor from her window last summer, Gabby Douglas has been growing steadily during her two years in Iowa. The 16-year-old gymnast, bound for the U.S. Olympic Trials as a virtual shoo-in to make the team that will compete in London, has been embracing the agricultural lifestyle in her adopted home

It just makes m y heart f e e l s o go o d

state while her athletic skills have accelerated to the point that she finished second in the all-around at the U.S. national championships Sunday. Douglas has her own bedroom for the first time, a new family that includes four little sisters, and a fan base that is rapidly expanding beyond Iowa. “I love when people come up to me and go, ‘Oh, my gosh; we love you.’ It just makes my heart feel so good,” Douglas said at a Monday

breakfast with the media, just hours after falling two-tenths of a point from tying Jordyn Wieber for the national title. “We did the Fan Fest yesterday and it was crazy. People were screaming my name. I felt so bad for the people who didn’t get autographs, but I tried to stay out there as long as I could.” Douglas is a rising star who has become planted in West Des Moines since moving from her native Virginia at age 14 to train with Liang Chow. Chow arranged for her to live with some friends, Travis and Missy Parton, who have four daughters ages 6 to 10 and a house that abuts some farmland.

Douglas is the youngest of four children, so she has always been used to a busy household, said her mother, Natalie Hawkins. But she was very shy growing up in Virginia. “I could never get her to leave my side. She’d hide behind my leg. She did not ever want to be separated from me,” Hawkins said. “And now, I just look at her, and she’s just blossomed.” Gabby Douglas competes on the uneven bars.

“She had fun watching the corn grow from these little sprouts,” said Missy, whom Gabby calls her “second mom.” “We’d take pictures every once in a while, go walk down into the cornfield and take it at different stages. Because it looks deceiving. We’d tell her, ‘It’s a lot taller than it looks.’ And then when they came and harvested the corn, and she saw the tractors and that whole operation, it was amazing to her. So it was kind of fun to walk somebody through that whole process of it. “She also loved the State Fair. We try to give her as much of a taste of Iowa as we can.”

Gabby Douglas hugs her coach, Liang Chow, after competing on the vault during the women’s Olympic gymnastics trials.

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