36a – Dominique Moceanu on gymnastics, healing, and health

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Dominique Moceanu is the youngest member of the “Magnificent Seven,” the US gymnastics team that made history by winning the first ever team gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA. Dominique was born to Romanian immigrants and showed promise as a gymnast from a very young age. Before the age of 10, her family moved to Houston, TX so that she could train with renowned coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi. Dominique went on to become the youngest ever US Senior National Champion, World individual medalist, and Olympic gold medalist among numerous other achievements throughout her career as an elite gymnast. Despite her success, she nearly missed her opportunity to compete in the 1996 Olympics due to a stress fracture in her leg, and she experienced abuse and instability in her training and home environments throughout her career. She eventually sought emancipation from her parents to recover lost earnings from her career as an elite gymnast, and it wasn’t until her relationship with her now-husband Dr. Mike Canales developed that she started to process the mistreatment she had endured and begin the path to healing. Another surprise came in 2007 with the discovery of her long-lost sister Jen Bricker who was born with no legs and who her father had given up for adoption after her birth. Dominique published her New York Times Bestselling memoir, Off Balance, in 2012 in which she provides details of her life and healing process. Today, she lives in Cleveland with her husband Mike and their two children Carmen and Vincent. She reconciled with her father prior to his passing, and she works to catalyze change in gymnastics so that future generations will experience a training environment that is both safe and healthy.

I first met Dominique at an autograph signing as a young gymnast, but our paths crossed again in 2013 as I was preparing to train for the 2014 CrossFit Games and in search of gymnastics coaching. I worked with Dominique and her husband Mike throughout that season and they became great mentors and friends. I’ve heard various aspects of Dominique’s story from her and read her memoir, and each time I am blown away by the strength and resilience she displayed from such a young age. I couldn’t wait to sit down with her to share some of her story with my Pursuing Health audience, and also to hear her opinion about the recent 2016 Olympics and how gymnastics has evolved over the past 20-plus years.

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Meeting Dominique at an autograph signing as a young gymnast

In Part A of this episode, we discuss:

  • How we met
  • How Dominique and her husband Mike helped me to prepare for the 2014 CrossFit Games
  • Dominique’s reactions to CrossFit competition
  • Dominque’s introduction to gymnastics at 6 months
  • When she first decided she wanted to become an Olympic champion
  • The importance of having belief and conviction in order to achieve your dreams
  • Her family’s move to Texas in order for her to train with the Karolyi’s at age 9
  • Changes in the USA Gymnastics system from when she was training to today
  • The unstable training environment she experienced as an adolescent and teenager
  • The importance of the coach-athlete relationship
  • How gymnasts’ body types have changed over the years and the culture of restrictive eating in elite gymnastics
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Meeting Dominique and her family at CrossFit Distinction in Beachwood, OH
You can follow Dominique at her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Also check out her New York Times Bestselling memoir Off Balance and her jewelry Creations by C & C.
If you like this episode, please subscribe to Pursuing Health on iTunes and give it a rating. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below and on social media using the hashtag #JFHealth. I look forward to bringing you future episodes with inspiring individuals and ideas about health every other Tuesday.
Disclaimer: This podcast is meant to share the experiences of various individuals. It does not provide medical advice, and it is not a substitute for advice from your physician or health care professional.