Few could forget the historic moment when American gymnast Gabby Douglas took home the all-around gold for gymnastics at the London Olympic Games last summer. Nicknamed “The Flying Squirrel” for her gravity-defying performances, the teen with the mega-watt smile made history by becoming the first African-American gymnast to win the coveted title of best all-around gymnast. Accolades and acclaim continued to follow Douglas, as she landed on Barbara Walter’s “10 Most Fascinating People,” Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” and was named female athlete of the year by the Associated Press. You could say that America has a big crush on the pint-sized athlete.
But the story doesn’t end there. Douglas’s new autobiography, Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith, details her path to Olympic success, her family’s often difficult journey and her distant relationship with her absent father.
Douglas began training at age six, and became the Virginia State Champion only two years later. At fourteen, she left her family home in Virginia to train in Iowa with renowned coach Liang Chow, so it was a genuine homecoming when Douglas recently visited the Barnes & Noble at Tidewater Community College bookstore in Virginia Beach.
Bookstore Manager Doug Bunk was thrilled when Douglas’s management team contacted Barnes & Noble to hold a book signing at the store he manages in the MacArthur Center Mall. “Her family still lives in Virginia Beach and often visits the mall and the bookstore,” he says. “Ultimately, Gabby and her family chose us because they think of the MacArthur Center as home.”
It was a true family affair when Douglas, her mother Natalie Hawkins, grandmother, brother and sisters accompanied the star to the book signing. Because of Douglas’s celebrity status, Bunk had a plan in place to manage the large crowd of fans who waited to meet the Olympian. “This is easily the biggest event we have ever had – but also one of the most fun,” he says. “But we knew that we had to put measures in place to make the event run smoothly, like requiring tickets before hand. Our experience with hosting high profile events really helped a lot.”
Bunk praised Douglas’s upbeat and professional personality with making the event such a success. “She was completely genuine,” Bunk recalls. “She smiled the entire time – and conducted herself with a maturity and poise way beyond her years. To greet and sign books for 700 people in two hours is pretty amazing. She truly is a champion.