It’s hard to reflect on the career of Serena Williams and not be inspired. Sports Illustrated reports that not only has she been ranked No. 1 in the world for the past four years, she also has six Wimbledon singles titles (just to name a few of her many accolades) — and she’s a fierce advocate for women, often speaking on body positivity and women’s rights. So seeing Williams as a role model of strength, perseverance and skill both on and off the court is quite an easy task — just ask Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas.
According to TIME’s Motto, the 20-year-old gold medalist told Teen Vogue about her journey to the get the gold for their August issue, explaining that believing in herself didn’t always come easily. “It took a long time for me to see my own potential — a long time,” Douglas told Teen Vogue, according to Motto.
Even after her gold-medal wins in the individual all-around and team competitions — which, Motto says, made her the first American gymnast to achieve such a feat — Douglas was still not the confident competitor and woman we see today. Teen Vogue reports that she was persistently bullied over her appearance, something that will eat at anyone’s self-esteem.
“Sometimes I would be in the bathroom, bawling my eyes out, wanting to quit,” Douglas told Teen Vogue, according to Motto. “I felt like I was all alone. But when I came through it, I felt as if I could overcome anything.”
Cue Williams, who became Douglas’ source of inspiration. Motto says Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, explained to Teen Vogue how her daughter came to draw strength from the legendary tennis player.
“I remember when everyone was talking about her arms, and she became very self-conscious about how muscular they were,” Hawkins told Teen Vogue. “Then Gabrielle saw the elegance with which Serena Williams handled all the negative criticism of her own body. It was liberating for my daughter to see that. She said, ‘I don’t have to apologize to anyone about my body. My body is beautiful.'”