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.
Part of complete coverage on
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Donna Brazile says our democracy is endangered, not by the Russians, North Korea, Iran or even terrorists. To quote Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Photographer Arne Svenson defends his show "Neighbors," portraits of the occupants of a building near him taken through their windows.
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 0852 GMT (1652 HKT)
JR's "Inside Out" project pushes the boundary of creating more human interactions.
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
With guest Rep. Keith Ellison, John Avlon, Margaret Hoover and Dean Obeidallah discuss the president's scandal trifecta, hope for immigration and what Jolie's revelation means for women.
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Roger Colinvaux says the IRS scandal is fundamentally about disclosure of donors, not tax-exempt status.
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Theater critic Kevin Williamson was kicked out of a play when he took the phone away from an audience member and threw it. He says it was worth it.
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1556 GMT (2356 HKT)
Mike Downey says Los Angeles has well-funded but clueless sports teams.
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1552 GMT (2352 HKT)
Grace Liu says It's time for some tiger cubs to approvingly roar for our strict and demanding parents
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Sens. Al Franken and Roger Wicker say we need a strong SEC to make sure credit ratings fraud doesn't bring down the economy again.
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says Chris Matthews is wrong; the Washington controversies result from a government that is too big to control
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
Gil Welch says women must not panic over Angelina Jolie's mastectomies: 99% of women don't carry the BRCA1 gene.
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
LZ Granderson says instead of reducing the blood alcohol content threshold, how about enforcing existing laws better?
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
Maia Goodell says the military should use civil legal remedies on sexual assault cases.
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 HKT)
Donna Brazile says the lack of transparency and due process at GOP-led hearings shows their true intent: to damage Clinton's presidential prospects and Obama's credibility.
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1109 GMT (1909 HKT)
Laura Wexler says Angelina Jolie's openness about her mastectomy fits into a pattern of celebrities who have shared secrets and helped others
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
Simon Tisdall says a gruesome video might further damage the already challenged reputation and credibility of the Syrian opposition.
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 1616 GMT (0016 HKT)
Rand Paul says firing the acting head of the agency isn't enough of a remedy to the abuses that endangered individual rights
May 15, 2013 -- Updated 2026 GMT (0426 HKT)
Michael Harley says to give Tesla Model S the "best" trophy is presumptuous - it is pioneering but not flawless
Today's five most popular stories