Gabby Douglas Says She's 'So Moved' by the Refugees Training for the Tokyo Olympics
Gabby Douglas is feeling inspired by the "underdog" stories leading up to the Tokyo Games.
The Olympic gymnast is front and center as she hosts YouTube's recently unveiled Olympics-themed original series. Strive, a six-part docuseries, follows the lives of several refugees and their journeys as they hope to compete in the Olympic Games — whether they're already Olympic medalists or hoping to earn a spot on the IOC Refugee Olympic Team (EOR).
Douglas, 25, chatted with PEOPLE to discuss her experience hosting the series, which launched on The Players' Tribune YouTube channel, and offer tips for how all athletes heading to Tokyo can be at their best.
"[Strive] is a very moving documentary and it highlights men and women who are forced to leave everything that they've ever known. I was so honored to be a part of this project to shine light on these athletes because they are so deserving," the gold medalist shares.
As a former Olympian, Douglas knows the ins and outs of representing your country in sports. Despite the Olympic Games being heavily centered around national pride and representation for the global event, she says it's inspiring for those who still choose to pursue their dreams after fleeing war, persecution, and more from their own homes.
"I think it's so beautiful that the refugees and athletes want to go out and not only represent themselves, but they also want to represent something that is so outside themselves," Douglas explains, adding that it was a "phenomenal" experience getting to dive into each of the athletes' worlds as she narrated the episodes.
"It's such a beautiful thing, right? Because we're all drawn to the underdogs or people who have so much stacked against them, but they rise to the occasion," she continues.
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The "Fierce Five" gold medalist says that she can relate to a piece of every athlete's story who was featured in the series because of her own journey pursuing elite gymnastics. In her early teens, she moved from her hometown Virginia Beach to live with a host family in West Des Moines, Iowa in order to train under Liang Chow, the former coach of Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson.
"I can relate to everyone's stories and the refugees overcoming adversity and challenges on a minor scale," Douglas explains. "I had to leave my hometown and go to western Iowa when I was 14, and I was always away from my family but...I can't even imagine what these athletes have to go through to achieve their dreams."
As professional athletes push boundaries within their respective sports, Douglas tells PEOPLE that she knows firsthand how it can be a long journey that can easily get overwhelming. She offers advice for getting through this Olympic cycle, specifically as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a "wave of complete uncertainty" — starting with mental health care.
"We already go through so much as athletes, you know, we already have so much pressure and things that are so stressful. We have the media, we have social media, we have competitions, and so on and so forth," Douglas says.
"Mental health plays a huge role in what they do," she adds, noting the importance of "making sure they're doing everything they can, not only physically but also mentally, to prepare themselves in mind and body for the Olympic Games."
But the gymnastics star — who has been open in the past about her own mental health struggles coming from the sports world — she calls all athletes "super conquerors" and advises that rather than focusing on medals and world titles, they simply show others that they are just like them.
"I just want everyone to take away, not per se, 'Oh, it's the Olympics,' but just being more relatable as human beings," Douglas says. "To say, 'My life wasn't perfect and I don't come from a great background. Everything I have achieved, I got through hard work,' which is so relatable.' "
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