When Gabby Douglas took the gold medal in the all-around of the Olympics gymnastics competition Thursday, she became the first African-American woman to do so.
On her way to the medals podium, the 16-year-old from Virginia inspired tweets from celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj and tumbled into the hearts of little girls across the nation.
“It doesn’t really matter what color you are, you can do it either way,” said Alaina Raybon, 11, of Mount Pleasant, who has been a competitive gymnast for eight years, the last several with coach Davita Ivey at the Charleston Twisters. “But it also might just help inspire a lot of gymnasts that are black.”
Alaina and her sister, Peyton, 10, are used to being among few African-American gymnasts at competitions.
“I don’t really worry about that a lot though,” Alaina said.
Her mother, Kenya Raybon, agrees.
“We never saw color as an issue,” she said. “We never really thought anything about it. I think that kids don’t really see color. They see gymnasts and (competitive) levels and friends.”
At age 4, Alaina started gymnastics at Sportsplex Gymnastics in Landover, Md., a facility built to cater to children who normally would not participate in certain sports, Raybon said.
“When she began with team competitions, she was in a state-of-the-art facility that actually reduced its rates for the people in the neighborhood, so her team was mostly black, which you never see,” she said.
“It was a really positive experience. Everywhere we’ve been, color has only been a positive issue, if it was an issue at all.”
USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport, has 5,273,000 members age 6 and older, but a breakdown by race was not available Friday.
Raybon said the issue that keeps people out of gymnastics is more of a financial one.
“Unfortunately, it’s such an expensive sport that it prices out a lot of minorities,” she said. “You don’t see a lot of Hispanics in it either.”
Brittany LaRoche, 25, a coach at Davita’s Funtastic Gymnastics, said she believes girls will look up to Gabby the same way she grew up admiring Dominique Dawes, who in 1996 became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics.
“Being a small gymnast, I knew I could do the same things she could do, so I was dedicated and pushing myself because I had someone to look up to,” she said.
“Gabby shocked everybody. She wasn’t even expecting to actually be a part of this Olympics, but she just went for what she believed in, working hard and dedication, and won the gold.”
LaRoche hopes that will show young tumblers what it takes to be successful.
“I think of lot of African-American girls don’t have the mindset to keep going,” she said.
“They don’t have that drive and think that they can’t do it until they see others do it. This summer, I’ve seen more African-American girls step up to the plate and say, ‘I want to try that too.’?”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.