But Johnson found she loved being pushed by a younger, more athletic and energetic teammate. And she found she loved mentoring Douglas, giving her advice on the mental demands of international competition.
“I’ve become a proud mama,” Johnson says.
But in January, Douglas abruptly told her mother she wanted to move back to Virginia Beach, a decision that would have thrown her preparation for London in disarray. Hawkins, who describes her daughter as “a wise old soul,” talked it over with her, reminding her that she had worked nearly 10 years to become an Olympian.
“You have this opportunity, and opportunities like this don’t come around very often in a lifetime,” Hawkins recalls saying.
A few days later, Douglas called home to say she was staying.
“I’ve got to do this, Mom!” she said, Hawkins recalls. “I’ve had this dream, and I’m not going to let it pass me by. I’m going to seize it with everything I’ve got.”
Since then, “the Flying Squirrel,” as U.S. national team coordinator Marta Karolyi calls Douglas, has improved at a breathtaking pace.
Her forte is the uneven bars, a traditional weakness of the U.S. women, flying around the bars and delighting in difficult release moves. She’s equally lithe and athletic on the balance beam. And after falling at nationals, which cost her the all-around title, she showed formidable resolve in hopping back on and completing her routine with no trace of nerves.
Pressure, Douglas explains, has never made her “chicken out.” It only drives her to be better.
“Kind of like Superman!’” she says with a laugh.
Douglas’s words tumble out faster than stunts in her floor routine, so eager is she to describe her passion for gymnastics, her love of her two families and her hobbies and heroes-of-the-moment. Nearly every sentence ends with a giggle and implicit exclamation point, whether the topic is playing the piano, doing crochet, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt or all that is fabulous about Iowa.
“The people are so nice! There’s no traffic! And they have these tractors that go through the cornfields, and the corn shoots out in this big bucket! It’s so cool to watch!” she says in rapid-fire burst.
Iowa is now this Virginian’s home, a necessary and nurturing stop on the road to a dream that ends in London. And that’s where Douglas’s three proud mothers — Natalie Hawkins, Missy Parton and Shawn Johnson — will cheer their daughter on.