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How Serena Williams Inspired a Young Gabby Douglas

July 1, 2016

"It took a long time for me to see my own potential"

As Olympian Gabby Douglas heads to Rio, the world-champion gymnast is taking time to reflect on her early days.

In an exclusive interview with Teen Vogue for their August cover story (which also features a separate interview with Simone Biles), the 20-year-old admitted that getting to the stage where she could compete for gold wasn’t easy.

“It took a long time for me to see my own potential — a long time,” Douglas told Teen Vogue. But four months before the Olympic trials in 2012, she had a shift in mentality and began to understand her own strength.

Douglas discussed her anxiety in a TIME profile from just before the 2012 games. “Am I good enough? Can I compete with the best?” she said she would ask herself. But finally, she said she realized: “No one is going to feel sorry for you, so you have to go out there and be fierce.”

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But Teen Vogue notes that even after Douglas became the first American gymnast to win Olympic gold medals in both the individual all-around and team competitions, she faced bullying over her appearance. “It was very tough. Sometimes I would be in the bathroom, bawling my eyes out, wanting to quit,” Douglas said. “I felt like I was all alone. But when I came through it, I felt as if I could overcome anything.”

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Douglas’s mother, Natalie Hawkins, said she found inspiration in a fellow athlete: “I remember when everyone was talking about her arms, and she became very self-conscious about how muscular they were,” Hawkins said. “Then Gabrielle saw the elegance with which Serena Williams handled all the negative criticism of her own body. It was liberating for my daughter to see that. She said, ‘I don’t have to apologize to anyone about my body. My body is beautiful.’”

Read the full story at TeenVogue.com.