“Do you want to see my medals?” asked three-time Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas to a group of roughly 100 campers at Coleman Country Day Camp in Merrick.
The crowd burst out in cheers of excitement before Ross Coleman, the camp’s director, joked, “What? Real gold medals?”
“No, they’re fake,” Douglas joked back. “They’re chocolate.”
The medals were real enough as campers each got a turn looking at the two that Douglas earned at the 2012 London Olympics, and the one she earned at this year’s 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Coleman Country Day Camp continued its eight-year tradition of hosting famed athletes for a meet-and-greet with its campers, who come from across the south shore. The tradition began in 2010 when New York Yankee Brett Gardner came to Merrick. This year, on Aug. 7, Douglas answered questions and watched campers perform gymnastics moves, before taking to the mat herself.
Douglas began pursuing gymnastics when she was six, after encouragement from her older sister Arielle. At 14, she took her passion to the next level by moving from her home in Virginia to train full-time with coach Liang Chow in Iowa. Today she trains six days a week for four to six hours a day. Her mother Natalie Hawkins said that she makes time in her schedule for events like the meet-and-greet at Coleman Country.
Campers asked Douglas to talk about her cameo appearance in an Aug. 5 episode of the Nickelodeon television series, “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn.” Douglas, who played a magical ballerina in the “Wizard of Oz”-inspired episode, disclosed to campers her plans to pursue acting because it has always been another passion of hers.
Another topic of discussion was Douglas’ involvement in the Nickelodeon’s 2017 Kids Choice Sports Awards, in which she made an appearance on the red carpet. “I definitely want to get slimed next time,” she said, referring Nickelodeon’s tradition of pouring green slime on celebrity guests.
In addition to answering questions about her experience in the limelight, Douglas said that the meet-and-greet was a chance for her to encourage young campers to pursue their passions just as she pursued hers.
“It means so much knowing that I can be here for these kids, come out and inspire them and do a little gymnastics,” she said.
Douglas told campers her thoughts on dealing with failure or mistakes.
“Never get frustrated,” she said. “You pick yourself up and try again.”