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Paul Archuleta/Getty Gabby Douglas
Gabby Douglas is grateful and humbled to be an inspiration to many aspiring gymnasts around the world.
The "Fierce Five" gold medalist — who has teamed with Sparkling Ice to announce their second annual Cheers to Heroes program, which celebrates and honors America's unsung heroes — spoke to PEOPLE about being an inspiration, herself, to many young women.
"Honestly, I get so many [messages from fans]," says Douglas, who last competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. "And I was touched by every single person. I'm just still trying to take it in myself because I remember when I was in their shoes at the time when I looked up to my role models. And it's such a grand feeling to be able to just inspire and touch and uplift so many people."
"A huge responsibility," she adds of being a hero to others, "but every single day I wake up so grateful."
Rich Polk/Getty Gabby Douglas
And to add to Douglas' blessings, she gets to interact with many of her fans as a mentor to the new generation of gymnasts that are set to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.
"I text them like, 'Hey, how's everything going?' " the famed athlete says. "And just uplift them because gymnastics is a very hard sport, a very long journey. So, anywhere I can add my piece, anywhere that piece of the puzzle and it fits correctly, then I am there."
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On the flip side, Douglas says that she doesn't have just one personal hero of her own — she's inspired by various groups of people every day, especially when considering the events of the past year including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the protests against racial injustice.
"I look up to so many people because I believe so many people can do and have added their piece, their voice, their uniqueness to the world," she explains. "There's so much that we can learn from different people. So I can't even tell you my favorite one because I have some many quotes and inspirational things and vibes through so many different people, celebrities, athletes, you name it."
Melissa J. Perenson/CSM/REX/Shutterstock Gabby Douglas
Sparkling Ice's Cheers to Heroes program began last year, with thousands of local heroes — such as first responders, community activists, teachers, healthcare workers and more — nominated and honored for their selflessness. This year's nominations are officially open from now until May 31, and the winning hero will receive $10,000 while the nominator can also win $500.
For Douglas, drawing attention to the next batch of people changing the world is more important than ever to her. In fact, she's realized that many of those heroes are those that "work behind the scenes" to make a difference.
"That really made me just have an awareness of how much goes into companies and products and how things came to be through so many different people," she explains. "Because it definitely takes a village to build a community, build a product, build a company."
"So honestly," Douglas adds, "I never want to take for granted ever again how much effort and time and people have gone into so many different things."