Gabby Douglas was recently approached by her mom, who told her about a 13-year-old girl who looked up to her.
On the surface, that’s nothing out of the ordinary. Douglas is, after all, the Olympic all-around champion with her own TV biopic and the subject of multiple books and a Madame Tussauds wax figure.
But this 13-year-old girl, Amarissa Mauricio, was a gymnast forced to give up the sport after she was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that can attack the body’s vital organs.
She developed a 105-degree fever, her liver was failing and her heart was enlarged, Amarissa’s mom, Dyan, said in a “My Wish” segment for ESPN’s “SportsCenter” set to air Wednesday (video here).
“She was dying,” her mom said, “and she knew it.”
There is no cure for lupus. Amarissa underwent chemotherapy and was told to discontinue gymnastics.
“They said no major impact to your organs, and she rolled over in her bed, and she cried,” her mom said.
Amarissa’s story reached Douglas’ mom, Natalie Hawkins, who told Douglas about Amarissa’s dream to meet the Olympic champion through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“I heard how she just loved gymnastics, and I was her role model,” Douglas said while driving Tuesday. “Absolutely, I wanted to make her wish come true. We had a blast.”
Douglas surprised Amarissa with an invitation to meet her in Iowa, via cell phone video. Amarissa’s family was welcome, too.
They got together in a gym at Iowa State, where Douglas showed Amarissa some of her skills, including part of her Olympic floor routine.
“[Amarissa] was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there she is right there,'” Douglas said of her first reaction. “I remember when I was a kid, and I met my role models. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re real.'”
Amarissa joined Douglas on the floor and the balance beam and tried on Douglas’ uneven bars grips from the Olympics. In another surprise, Douglas brought out one of her Olympic gold medals, had Amarissa stand on top of a block and draped the medal around her head.
“At first, she was a little shy,” Douglas said. “But her personality is so beautiful. She has such a big heart. I love how she keeps fighting. It inspires me, too.”
They had a spa date the next day and had their nails done. Amarissa left Iowa with a few souvenirs, including one of Douglas’ signature leotards.
Douglas said she will stay connected with Amarissa and her family as she continues to train.
“She’s a huge inspiration to me, to remember to keep fighting if things get hard, if things get tough,” Douglas said. “It’s about never giving up.”