Opinion: Gabby Douglas, the female Obama

by Patience Akpan-Obong

On November 4, 2008, the hitherto unthinkable happened: A black man got elected into the White House. Suddenly, little black boys in the United States began to dream big. Teachers could no longer snicker behind their desks when “Little Bill” joined his white classmates to say, “When I grow up, I want to be the President of the United States.” Even the most cynical African American and the most racist white supremacist knew that Little Bill’s goal wasn’t unattainable because one black man already had the audacity to reach for it.

A lot has happened since that historic night, for good or for bad – depending on one’s political perspective. But then, the 2012 Olympic Games has ushered in renewed hopes and dreams, this time in the nimble body and infectiously heart-warming smile of the American teenager the world now knows as the Flying Squirrel, Gabby Douglas.

Sixteen-year old Gabby achieved in London what no female has in US gymnastics history. She won gold in both the team and individual All Around Finals. Despite losses in her last two events, she has emerged the world’s top female gymnast, and her routines are the most viewed (more than 18 million hits on an NBC website, not counting YouTube and other sites). She’s now more famous than Michael Phelps, the guy who’s won the most medals in Olympics history.

Her story is remarkable on many levels including the fact that she is black and poor. (She’s still black but no longer poor!) Yet, Gabby took interest in a sport that doesn’t attract many black people and costs tons of money in training. Mr. Tim Daggett, a former Olympian and an NBC gymnastics analyst, responding to a question about Gabby’s post-London prospects, said something that underscored the dearth of black girls in gymnastics. Gabby, he said, is “very tiny, she’s lithe and thin-boned, and those things really matter.” Not many black girls can be described in that manner.

I doubt though that Gabby woke up one morning, stood in front of the mirror and said: “O.M.G. I’m tiny, lithe and thin-boned. I’m going to the Olympics!” Rather, she saw a gymnast on TV do a seemingly impossible move and decided she could do it. The youngest of four children nagged her mom, Ms. Natalie Hawkins, for an opportunity to prove it. She did … and then some.

Here then is one of the lessons from the life and achievement of the girl with the golden smile: We can do anything we put our mind to regardless of the obstacles. In gymnastics, as in life, it’s all about mind (will power, determination) over matter (body, flesh). And God’s grace too – as Gabby herself testified, crediting God for her success. “The glory goes up to Him, and the blessings fall down on me,” she told a reporter.

Through her hard work and determination, Gabby becomes an inspiration for little girls around the world, particularly black girls. As her agent, Ms. Sheryl Shade, told the Los Angeles Times, Gabby “appeals to everyone, to the moms who take their little girls to the gym, to the little girls who want to be like her, to the African American community.” After Mr. Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States, black boys began to dream of the presidency. Similarly, black girls (particularly the thin-boned ones!) can now aspire to be the next Flying Squirrel and mesmerize the world in leaps and bounds (pun intended).

And speaking of female athletes who go the distance, here’s a shout out to Engr. Ukeme Awakessien, a Marathoner par excellence. She and her fiancé, Mr. Aaron Jeter, vow love everlasting, the Akwa Ibom way (“Usoro Ndo”), today at the Awakessien family home in Uyo. The “oyinbo” version of the nuptials holds on Aug. 25 in Port Clinton, Ohio. Please join me to pray that their love will continue long after the ceremonies and into the sunset of their lives!

London ‘underground’ is no place to live

Also in the news from London 2012 is the report that seven Cameroonian athletes (five boxers, one swimmer and one female soccer player) have “defected” from the Olympic Village. The assumption is that they have gone underground though an official from the Local Olympics Organizing Committee said the athletes are authorized to stay in the UK until November and therefore they haven’t done anything illegal. It is possible that they just went sightseeing or visiting family and friends and will return home soon. For their sake, I hope that is the case.  If not, then their problems go beyond the inability to make a splash, kick up dust or land an impact at the Olympics. They definitely must be olodo of the highest degree if they think that going underground in the UK will guarantee them a better life than what they have in their country as national athletes.

As many people know – and some have learnt the hard way – it is no longer possible to survive “underground” in a Western country. Many countries have toughened their immigration laws such that it is almost impossible for any “successful underground living.” From what I understand, the British immigration laws are some of the most stringent. Even the “crayfish jobs” of yesteryears got dumped in the Thames years ago. Living in the shadows in a foreign country and without the ability to work or study is no life at all.

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