First I would like to congratulate you on all your success in your career. You have accomplished more at the young age of 20 than most people accomplish in a lifetime – or never at all. I cannot imagine the sacrifices and struggles you have endured to gain the success you have.
I didn’t know who you were until 2012. When the London Olympics rolled around, I was excited to learn that Iowa had another gymnast competing. For two years you experienced being an Iowa native. I would hope that you saw how loving, compassionate, and caring the people of Iowa are. I hope that, even though you have moved, you can still call Iowa home.
You had goals to compete and win in 2012, and you did not disappoint. Your infectious, bubbly personality resonated through the TV screen. Anyone watching you could tell how emotional and exciting this was for you. You paved the way for many young girls (and boys) that year. Everyone loved you.
Fast forward to 2016….
I didn’t keep track of your career after the 2012 Olympics. I was excited to see you back again competing at the 2016 Olympic Qualifiers. My oldest (who was too young to remember your success in 2012) was excited to watch you. After one event she proudly proclaimed that she, too, wanted to be a gymnast. (I gently reminded her that at age 8 she is already taller than most gymnasts are at 16 – BUT that it shouldn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams of being an Olympian.) She was watching you, Gabby.
You looked determined. Focused. And people criticized you.
You made the team. People criticized you. Said you didn’t deserve it. You weren’t who you used to be. You weren’t smiling. You weren’t happy. You weren’t what they wanted you to be. They compared you to everyone else. And tore. you. down.
As we watched you compete, you wore the same determined and focused look. You did well. But not as well as you had hoped. And people continued to be distracted by the way you looked or the way you chose to hold yourself during the medal ceremony. They watched you as you watched your friends compete – chastising you for not being happy and excited. They didn’t care that you had sacrificed a lot to represent our great nation on the Olympic stage and had done something that most of them could not. They only cared to bring you down.
Young girls (and boys) were watching you. Watching how you would react.
My daughter saw as you were getting torn down. Criticized for not being real enough. Not being good enough. We talked about bullying. We talked about how our words affect other people – even if you can’t see that person. I was emotional when I saw what people said about you and even more emotional when I saw how it affected you.
Gabby, you are human. You are allowed a full range of emotions, from bubbly to determined and focused. And even allowed to be disappointed that you didn’t compete as well as you had hoped. You are allowed this without cameras in your face and the world criticizing your every move. You shouldn’t have to fake being happy or feign excitement because the world expects you to. You have every right to be human and be emotional.
As a mother, it frightens me what bullying has become. The faceless comments can hurt just as much, if not more, than someone saying it to you in person. People hide behind their computers and phones and spread hate. What I don’t understand is that they don’t KNOW you, and yet, they criticize you as if they do. As I watch my daughter grow up, I worry about text messaging and fake email accounts and Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter/Instagram platforms that can all spew hate and criticism in her direction. It is scary how existent it is – even if people ignore it. Because clearly if it is continuing to happen, people are ignoring it.
Your reaction to the hate you received was real. If anyone judged your lack of emotions before, they shouldn’t even be able to question it now. It was clearly all over your face how horrible people were to you. I commend you for not ignoring it. For publicly saying how horrible people were to you and saying that it hurt. And even though there was backlash to your statements of it hurting, I am hoping that the younger generation is seeing how horrible this problem is.
It is NOT about getting thicker skin. It is about NOT BULLYING.
Gabby, you have been an inspiration not only through your amazing gymnastics career, but for showing the world that cyberbullying has a real impact on people. No doubt your demeanor throughout August had to do with the amount of REAL, UNBELIEVABLE bullying you experienced. I hope that you will rise up from this experience and show the world that despite the amount of damage they tried to inflict upon you, that you are stronger than their words.
I read an article that stated for most of the time at the events you were alone. Gabby, know you were not alone. The hearts and souls of every person who has ever been cyberbullied were with you. The arms of all the mothers who have watched bullies tear down their own children were around you. For every negative comment on Facebook and Twitter, there are two or more glowing comments supporting you. #Love4GabbyUSA quickly became a trending topic.
Iowa loves you, Gabby.