Why we need Gabby
August 7, 2012 -- Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT)
U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas celebrates after winning the artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around final in London.
- Wendy Hilliard: Gabby Douglas gold medal for all-around gymnastics is highly significant
- She says it sends a powerful message to young girls that they can seek spectacular goals
- She--and her single mom--showed the world she was willing to sacrifice to get there
- Hilliard: By 14, girls drop sports at twice rate of boys. Gabby's example could change that
Editor's note: Wendy Hilliard in 1978 was the first African-American athlete to represent a United States team in rhythmic gymnastics. She is a former president of the Women's Sports Foundation. Last year, she was awarded the Rings of Gold Award from the U.S. Olympic Committee for her work through the Wendy Hilliard Foundation, a nonprofit that has provided free and low-cost gymnastics lessons to more than 10,000 inner-city youth in New York.
(CNN) -- Gabby Douglas winning the all-around gymnastics gold medal in London is over-the-top significant on so many levels.
It's not only that she won the top prize in a dramatic and thrilling competition last week, featuring the top Russian gymnasts. More important is the powerful message Gabby is sending to young girls and women, especially those who are African-American, about doing what it takes to make your dreams happen. Young people need to reach for spectacular goals. This is not a message we hear often enough, and that is why is it so important.
Monday may have been not quite as golden a day for Gabby -- she placed eighth in the women's uneven bars final -- but the audience did not seem at all disappointed in her performance; there was anticipation and excitement just to see her compete again. And it did nothing to diminish what she has accomplished; with her all-around victory Thursday, she created one of those iconic Olympic moments that will endure the test of time.
Gabby became the best in her sport in front of the world, and was unapologetic about doing what it took to get her there. Her family's sacrifice, and the trust her mother showed in her daughter's goals, could be a lesson to parents and children everywhere. The story of an African-American single mom and her daughter reaching for greatness, and succeeding, will resonate with a whole new generation.
Dominque Dawes discusses Douglas win
Obama congratulates U.S. gymnasts
Gabby Douglas' mom on her golden future
Gabby's mom: Nervous waiting on scores
I have been an elite athlete, coached an Olympic gymnast and since 1994 have provided free and low-cost gymnastics to over 10,000 young people in Harlem. I know the challenges of gymnastics, especially for minority families. Top-level gymnastics takes an incredible sacrifice from an athlete and her family in endless practice time, constant travel and lots of money.
The fact that Gabby chose at age 14 to move halfway across the country to achieve her goal is a testament to her drive. It was a remarkable decision: According to research by the Women's Sports Foundation, by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. Gabby has become a key role model who may help reverse this trend.
It is important to not focus on the possible ways to make money from sport. It did not work that way for Gabby Douglas; the appeal of the journey to greatness was already there and it cannot be underestimated. The reasons to participate in sport and fitness and the benefits can't be measured by dollars, unless you count how much it is costing this country to support a generation of overweight, unhealthy, unmotivated and unprepared-for-the-world young people.
Yes, we need Gabby.
Let's face it, you cannot take your eyes off her. When she is competing, her gymnastics is exciting. When she is being interviewed, her energy, love of her family, her sport and her faith together make a compelling impression.
This is an exciting time for women's gymnastics. But it is an even more exciting time for young girls -- all the girls who now have Gabby to look up to.
Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.
Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Wendy Hilliard.
Today's five most popular stories
Part of complete coverage on
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?