It has been an exciting ride for Jordyn and Gabby, two members of the gold medal-winning “Fabulous 5″ of U.S. gymnastics.
Gabby, nicknamed “The Flying Squirrel,” walked into history when she became the first African-American to win the individual all-around gymnastics competition at the Olympics. She also won a gold medal with her team.
All of a sudden, she is a superstar. She’s picked up a few new nicknames, including “Gabylicious,” “Gabulous” and “Golden Gabby.”
Everyone wants to take a picture with her, and privacy now comes at a premium.
“Everyone knows you now … we can’t go anywhere now,” she said in an interview with ABC News‘ Cecilia Vega at the Procter & Gamble U.S. Family Home in London. “They’re like, ‘Can we have a photo? An autograph?’ When we’re eating, it’s kind of awkward.
“We’re eating and we’re kind of smiling and we have food in our mouth,” Gabby said, laughing.
But being in the spotlight has meant exposing herself to public criticism. When Gabby was competing and focused on her routines, some viewers were focusing on — and disparaging — her hair.
“I’ve just got to say, they have no idea what they’re talking about,” she said. “What? Do you want me to wear it down?
“Me and my mom were joking, ‘What, do you want me to throw on some hoops in there?’” she said, laughing.
Her mother, Natalie Hawkins, said the comments made her angry.
“I’m thinking, ‘Who says that about a 16-year-old child?’” Hawkins said.
Gabby might be young, but she stands to rake in a lot of money on endorsements. For a family that struggled financially to support her – Hawkins filed for bankruptcy earlier this year – that payday can’t come soon enough.
“I looked up at that scoreboard and saw her name in first place. I couldn’t contain myself because all of the years, sacrifice, struggles. The victories, even that she’s had competing, it was overwhelming,” she said.
At age 14, Gabby left her mother in Virginia Beach and moved to Iowa to train with the best. Gabby said her father, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, was often absent.
“It’s kind of a distant relationship between me and my dad,” she said. “Sometimes he would be there and sometimes he wasn’t. He came kind of at the last moment. He wasn’t really around for the most part.”
Gabby isn’t the only one with the heart of a champion.
Jordyn Wieber, 17, was expected to win it all, but that didn’t happen.
Jordyn, the 17-year-old gymnast from DeWitt, Mich., entered the Games as the leader and star of Team USA’s Fabulous 5 and the world champion, but she failed to qualify for the individual all-around title after uncharacteristic slip-ups cost her one-tenth of a point and put her in third place behind teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby, respectively.
Countries can enter just two gymnasts in the all-around final, so by the rules Jordyn was out.
Despite that disappointment, Jordyn still managed to summon strength and helped her team win the gold. “It was pretty tough,” Jordyn said. “I had to really mentally turn it around pretty quickly.”
Her mother, Rita Wieber, also found it tough.
“That was [the] hardest part about being her mom at that point, was all I wanted to do is give her a hug and tell her, “I’m so proud and I’m so sorry and life’s going to go on,’” Rita Wieber said.
The team’s gold medal means so much to her now, Jordyn said
“That first night after I got it I slept with it under my pillow … then in the morning, I felt underneath my pillow just to make sure it was still there,” she said.
For these two, the experience is still surreal.
“It just hasn’t clicked in my mind yet, like I’m the Olympic champ,” Gabby said. “It’s so weird. All the hard times I was the underdog and to finally have risen up to my full expectations and, man, it’s just amazing.”
She says she’s proud of herself.
“All the sacrifices and tough times and rough times,” she said,” I have to look back and say, ‘Wow, it was all worth it.’”