November 30, 2012

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. This year we asked a select group of people from outside the staff to offer nominations for that honor. Michael Vick's selection was Olympic champion Gabrielle Douglas, and he explains why below as told to Bryan Armen Graham. Please vote for your Inspiring Performer, Photo of the Year and Moment of the Year at our Facebook page.

Gabby Douglas is the American dream. For a young woman to be able to achieve so much so early in her life is a testament to her dedication and sacrifice. She probably envisioned winning those Olympic gold medals her entire life, but it all happened even faster than she thought in London. The history she wrote makes her my choice for Sportsman of the Year.

But Gabby is also the Newport News dream. We're proud of her being from the state of Virginia, from our region. The tradition of athletes to come from our area is a testament that nobody can ever tell you that your dreams can't come true. [Young athletes] dream about becoming superstars, excelling at our sport, but it takes a lot of hard work to get there. So at a young age, we commit ourselves to accomplishing everything that we set out to achieve. I can connect with Gabby because I did the same thing playing football in the backyard. [Virginia] breeds great athletes and she's the next one up.

The way Gabby handled the Olympic spotlight didn't surprise me. She did exactly what she needed to do to convince the judges she deserved [the gold medal]. There's always pressure in anything that you do, just in life in general. So to be competing in a sport you practiced all your life, sometimes that pressure seems to go away and you're able to deal with it on a different level, so it almost becomes fun. That's what I saw during the Olympics, when Gabby won gold medals in the individual all-around and team competitions. She was ready.

What Gabby accomplished will always be remembered. She's in the history books as the first woman of color in Olympic history to do what she did. She's one of one. That makes it even more special. It's very gratifying for her mom, who you've got to give a lot of credit for everything she's put into Gabby. My hat goes off to her, as well as the others who were participants in her success.

But Gabby was the one who had to commit herself to trying to live that dream out. And she did it.

I met Gabby for the first time [on Nov. 9] in Philadelphia, when the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions came to the Wells Fargo Center. I was happy I got the opportunity to congratulate her and her mom in person. She's a young girl so she was kind of shy, but she smiled and just had a glow about her that a lot of kids don't have. It was good to see her and her teammates all having fun more than anything else.

One thing's for sure: you have girls today aspiring to be like Gabby. I don't have to look far. The younger of my two daughters wants to be a gymnast now. She's been inspired by Gabby and I think it's a beautiful thing. It's awesome, not just that Gabby has become a role model, but that she's aware of it. Women mature way faster than men and they tend to understand more at an earlier age. You sense that Gabby understands the impact she can make, to not only help young girls but educate them as well, to show them what it takes to accomplish certain things in life and how to get there.

Michael Vick is the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. He is the founder of the Team Vick Foundation, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) charity to provide second chances and support to individuals and communities who need it most.

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