Dominique Moceanu is a former Olympic gymnast.
When did your interest begin? "I've loved the sport since I was a toddler running around. I would stay at the gym for eight or nine hours a day because I loved the atmosphere so much. I was very competitive as a child. You start at levels and then the levels start competing. If they think that you're talented you'll go higher and higher. That's where the competition aspect of it comes into play. I didn't start competing until I was about 9 or 10. That's when I started making sacrifices. I gave up a lot of social time. I'd spend a lot of hours in the gym. We moved to a lot of places to be at the right gym for me."
What was an average day like? "I went to gym from 6:30 to 9:30. Then I went to school. Then from 4:00 to 7:00 or 8:00, I'd go back to the gym. At night, I'd go home. Do homework. Go to bed. And start all over again."
It's such a demanding career and, yet, you were so young. Was it difficult making friends? "At first it was because I was shy, but I had a big personality so I ended up making friends everywhere I went. It was tough because I didn't have any social life besides the girls at the gym. Those were my only friends. We all went to the same middle school and had the same schedule. It was kinda fine. We were always bonding. Everyone would call us 'the little gymnast girls.' We had our own little table we sat at together and we did things together. We were really close. I went to a private school once I hit high school, but I had gone to a regular public school, until then."
Have you kept in touch with any of the girls? "My best friend is part of that group. She moved on to college and we're still very close. I still know a lot of the other girls, but me and her are the closest. I keep in contact a little bit with the other girls. My best friend knows them better because she stayed with them until they went to high school. I moved on because I excelled so quickly. I had to separate myself and move on to the more competitive gymnastics. My best friend didn't end up wanting to do it in college."
Do you see college in your future? "I would love to go. I want to experience all the things that I can. I want to take my time this year and explore. This is my first year not competing. I would like to go out and maybe do some acting or modeling. I also want to do some broadcasting. I'd love to be in front of the camera. Entertainment maybe with gymnastics. I'd like to look into that field. Now that I'm starting a new life, I'm ready to move on with different things. I want to see what's going to do me well."
What were the Olympics like? "It was an amazing experience. I was so overwhelmed as a young kid. All I knew was 8 hours in the gym every day. To be there in front of millions of people was amazing. And to make history that night. July 23rd. I'll never forget that. How we were standing on that podium and our flag was being raised instead of Romania's or Russia's for the first time in history. All the emotions were unbelievable. We had worked so hard for that moment. Our team was truly blessed and we were truly talented."
Describe that moment for me. "You stand there and, as much as you try to explain it to someone, no one will ever know how you really felt. It brings tears to your eyes because it's our blood and sweat and tears that we put in the gym every single day actually paid off that day. Nobody will ever know how many days you spend in the gym or how many days you cried at night, hurting just to try and make it up there to the top."
How do you tackle your nerves before an event? "It's really hard to control. All of us [at the Olympics] had butterflies. We just knew we could count on our training because we were so ready. We trained so hard and did a million routines. I knew we were ready. We just had to pull it together and not let the nerves get the best of us. It was certainly hard not to, but you go out there and have to try to be confident. That's the only way you conquer it. If you let your fears and doubts take over you, you're going to mess up."
What has been the most memorable moment in your career? "There's two great, memorable moments. One was the Olympics obviously. The other was the '98 Goodwill Games. I won the 'all around' as an individual. Goodwill Games is just as big as the World Championships. It was unbelievable. I had won it in New York. It was the first time an American had ever won the 'all around.' I was so proud to represent my country and win the title, which I had been praying for. That was a dream come true for me. That was one of my best meets ever because I had just struggled finding coaches and I had just made a come back in '98. Nobody thought I could do it and I pulled it off. It was pretty amazing."
What was going through your head at that particular meet? "Through out the competition I was just praying that I would do well. I thought about hitting my routines and doing the best that I possibly could. Towards the last event, I saw my name and realized, I have a chance. I had three perfect events and came over to vault. I knew that it was a pretty strong event for me, but I wasn't going to let up or let myself think I was doing well. I kept going and cried at the end. Everyone came over to me saying, You won. You won. I couldn't believe it."
Being a gymnast must be rough on the body. How have you handled it? "I just had three surgeries. I've had two on my knee and one on my shoulder, which I'm doing therapy for right now. My shoulder was tore up pretty bad all last year of training. That was pretty serious. I almost tore it completely off. I wasn't able to compete in the second Olympics because my knee had a bone chip in it that stopped me during trials. I was in the best shape and was ready and then... damn! I've had bad luck with injuries. I got hurt and it really sucked because I trained so hard."
Would you do it all over again? "It's been worth it because it's made me who I am today. It's made me a tough person. I never give up and I always work through pain. I've been taught as a kid to learn and grow from all these experiences. I've definitely learned a lot and I'm thankful for that."
What have some the advantages been? "I got to travel around the world and see things that people will never get to see. I'm the youngest person to get a gold medal. A lot of fourteen-year-olds aren't able to get a gold medal. Seeing all the different, beautiful countries. Meeting different, famous celebrities. It's been amazing."
And the disadvantages? "There's been a lot of hard things. I don't know where to begin. Being away from home a lot. Missing your friends. Missing out on a social life and partying with them. I've given up a lot of that time for this. Also, it's hard dealing with the pressure and the stress of the media getting involved in your life. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, though. You have time to party your whole life, but these are memories and moments that other kids never had a chance to have."
You recently announced that you're ready to move on from gymnastics. What does the future have in store for you? "I'm trying to heal up right now. My shoulder is in rehab from surgery. I'm trying to do camps this summer and try some acting. I'm going to NY. Hopefully that'll work out. I'd love to work in the entertainment industry. I love watching that channel, E! I watch those shows non-stop continuously. I love MTV. I watch it all the time, every day."
What advice do
you have for aspiring gymnasts?
"I tell a lot of kids this...
Go out there and do it for yourself. Be happy with who you are. Set yourself
some goals and dreams. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. You're
the only person who can stop yourself from achieving your goals. You just
have to believe in yourself. If you really want it, you can do it. A lot
of people told me that I couldn't and that I wasn't going to make it back
and I proved them wrong because I really wanted to do it. You have to love
what you're doing. Don't do it because someone else wants you to."
Photos Courtesy of Pam Mayer
Photos Courtesy of Pam Mayer
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