Podcast

Episode 50 – Dominique Dawes, Olympic Gold Medal Gymnast

There’s a good chance you already know who Dominique Dawes is. She was a gymnast who competed in three Olympic Games, winning team medals in all of them – becoming the only American gymnast to do so. She was part of the “Magnificent Seven” at the 1996 Atlanta Games. And if that wasn’t enough, she is the first female African-American gymnast to win an individual medal. But these days, Dominique faces a task that she says is drastically more challenging than gymnastics ever was – motherhood. Today, Jessica and Dominique get deep into what makes an athlete, and what life is like when the competition ends.

Dominique Dawes going scared podcast

Jessica: Hey, it’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand Noonday Collection. And this is the Going Scared podcast where we cover all things, social impact, entrepreneurship, and courage. Today’s conversation is so rich. In fact, after I press the stop record button, we could not stop talking. Today’s conversation is with the legendary, Dominique Dawes, Olympic gymnast who competed in three Olympic Games, winning team metals in all three of those games, and becoming the only American gymnast to do so.

You probably remember The Magnificent Seven, which we talked about today at the 1996 Atlanta games. She was the first female African-American gymnast to win an individual medal. And after 18 years of professional gymnastics, she is an accomplished motivational speaker. She speaks to audiences of hundreds and thousands on topics like passion, leadership, teamwork, health, fitness, wellness, and we talked about all of those things today. I absolutely loved my conversation with Dominique. Give it a listen.

OK. So, it’s 2019, but of course, everyone who’s listening right now watched you in ’92, in ’96, in 2000. And I’m so curious as you look back now from where you are today with just having your birthday party for twins, I mean, of course, God gave you twins. He’s like, “Oh, yeah, you’ve got gold, you can handle this.”

Dominique: Yeah. I do think that God really does have a lot of faith in me, in that He’s, yeah, in trusting these amazing kids to me so young, yeah.

Jessica: That is awesome. So, when you look back, how do you remember that time in your life? And what really sticks out to you all these years later?

 

Creating a New Legacy

Dominique: Well, I will say that it does feel as if it was many, many chapters of go that I went to three different Olympic Games, and that the sport of gymnastics really was my full existence for nearly 18 years of my life. And you know, when I talked about my athletic career with my husband, I do say that it was like another lifetime ago. It’s crazy to think that we are approaching goodness, almost 23 years since my Olympic gold medal performance in 1996. And to think that…

Jessica: That feels like yesterday to me still it.

Dominique: Yeah. I mean, somewhat, it does feel like yesterday…

Jessica: For me, it does.

Dominique: …and the whole other lifetime ago. And then nearly 27 years from my first Olympic Games in 1992 when I was 15 years old, it is just surreal to think about. But as you mentioned earlier, I really do feel as if all my years of preparing for the Olympic Games, the sacrifice, the commitment, the hard work, the facing fears, really has helped me with motherhood today.

You know, I thought training for the Olympics was hard. Honestly, I feel like I could train for a fourth Olympic Games right now and it would be so much easier, then tackling what I tackle on a daily basis, which is what many moms have to face when they have such young kids back to back to back. I have a soon to be five-year-old, a three and a half-year-old, and as you mentioned earlier, two twins that just turned one years old. So I know I’m in the thick of it.

I have pretty severe mommy brain, but I am trying to embrace each and every moment, each and every high, and each and every low, and recognize that the time that I’m spending with my children is more valuable than anything that I’ve done in my whole life, even making history. You know, as a young athlete in 1996, this doesn’t compare—this is the bigger stage in life about being a parent and really leaving a lasting impact on these young people.

“I am trying to embrace each and every moment, each and every high, and each and every low, and recognize that the time that I’m spending with my children is more valuable than anything that I’ve done in my whole life, even making history.” Dominique Dawes

Jessica: Creating that legacy. Then you have created a legacy as well, you know, not to discount what you previously have accomplished because it’s extremely inspiring. I have to ask, how are all of your labors?

Dominique: Oh, number one, I just…

Jessica: That’s a little personal. You don’t have to answer it.

Dominique: No, I love it. No, I love it. I will say, number one, I did hypnobirthing. So, I do some labor because when you think of the word labor, you think of straining or being in pain. And so, in hypnobirthing, you say birth. And all of my birth were quite different and they were all very amazing. My first two were natural, I will say challenging-wise with the first one because it was a lot of back labor, and the hypnobirthing usually doesn’t entail a lot of curse words and stuff and it was not very peaceful and calming as I was envisioning that it could be. But I was healthy. My oldest daughter, Kateri, was healthy.

And for the second birthing with Quinn, my second daughter—with Kateri, it was nearly a day of labor and the second child was 90 minutes. I mean, it was just night and day in the actual birthing in, which I did from the second one. And then with twins, the birth was pretty amazing. I will say there was a lot of fear going into that one because I knew that my second twin in the womb, Dakota, was breeched. And I had no interest in breeching naturally a baby—birthing a breeched baby.

So Lincoln, the little boy who came out first, came out really smoothly, and then with Dakota, I did get an epidural during that labor so that the doctor could reach in because that’s the technique that he felt was the one that he felt most comfortable with, to reach in and grab her feet and pull her out.

Jessica: So, you still did a vaginal birth with your twins?

Dominique: Yes. I still did a vaginal birth with my twins. I wanted to go with the midwives. I found a wonderful team in DC that was willing to birth me vaginally, as long as I was in the right … the babies were in the optimal position. They were not, but they were willing to allow me to birth. But they did want me to use an epidural. And I was more afraid of that needle in my back, honestly, than birthing children. But I really wanted to make sure that I was able to be calm during that birth. And I knew I couldn’t be calm as someone sticking their arm of me to get a baby out. So, I’m healthy. The babies are healthy. And at the end of the day I just feel very blessed.

Jessica: That is incredible. Well, I’m as far as you can get from being an athlete, but I did birth an 11-pound child at home.

Dominique: Wow. Oh, my gosh, that’s impressive. But I don’t go off the weight. What was the size of his or her head?

Jessica: Oh, gosh, he’s 10 now so I can’t even remember. But I barely tore. I mean, my midwives were incredible.

Dominique: Yes, they were. Oh, my goodness.

Jessica: But I always think, and to this day, I mean, I’m a worker-outer so I value my physical health. Whenever I just feel like giving in, I just think Jessica, you birthed that baby.

Dominique: Exactly. You can do anything.

Jessica: Yeah. So, did you channel some of that focus into your labor? I mean, I don’t know if you’d compare the two, but, I mean, is there a correlation between all of that athletic training and then sort of the focus it took to deliver?

Dominique: You know, I will say this, I was a very focused athlete, I’m a very hard worker, I love setting goals and taking those stepping stone—taking those stepping stone goals to accomplish the bigger goal, so taking it one step at a time. So, all of those qualities helped me tremendously in learning to breathe, and control your thinking, and recognize how you’re thinking control so much. However, I know by nature, I am a very fearful person. I have a significant amount of insecurities. I have a great deal of anxiety.

And so, when I was trying to channel all of the those strengths that I had in the sport of gymnastics, I also knew I have these weak areas that I knew were going to really make things a little bit more challenging. And so, I was constantly battling the fear, the doubt, the insecurity along the way. I wish I could say, “Oh, it was just smooth sailing and,” you know, “controlling my thoughts,” but it was a struggle for me. And I will say that I lean tremendously on my faith, tremendously on my husband, and really tremendously on some friends of mine to just keep me focused on what the outcome that I desired was going to be enough focus on the what ifs in the situations that I couldn’t control.

And that was something that I needed to constantly remind myself of, is that I could not control every aspect, you know? And I have a friend right now that’s actually in the process of birthing a child. And she was trying hard to go natural. And just her body is just not relaxing and she’s not dilating, so she’s having to really let go, let God, and trust that everything will work out as it should.

And so, for me though, if you looked at me like, “Oh, she’s so cool, calm and collected.” And I think when people look back at my athletic career, they think that as well. But if you knew what was going on on the inside and how much I had to fight to push away negativity, or fight to push away those insecurities, or those moments of fear, you would be pretty amazed that I’m actually standing up and smiling. But that’s what I really had to lean on, is recognizing that I have some battles that I have going on internally.

 

Process vs Perfection

Jessica: It’s interesting because I was going to ask you about perfectionism, which is what I feel like outcomes, you know? We get so hung up on outcomes as it as its struggle with perfectionism. And we wannna be able to control this perfect outcome. In so many ways, gymnastics is about chasing perfectionism. You’re training 30 to 40 hours a week and you’re trying to get the 10.0, but almost nobody gets the 10.0. So, tell me how have you experienced that perfectionist, that mindset into adulthood, and then letting that go, like you’re no longer on that floor anymore? And where is that no longer serving you? And how have you kind of managed to feel the fear and just keep going anyway?

Dominique: Yeah. Back in the day, when I was a gymnast, we always were striving for that 10.0. And the problem is, I got it about three or four times. And then once you get that perfect score, you do believe it’s possible again. And anything less than that is not necessarily considered failure, but there’s always that room for, unfortunately, improvement. And you’re focusing on what you did not accomplish rather than focusing on what you did accomplish. and being happy, and almost satisfied or content, so to speak, with the outcome.

“Once you get that perfect score, you do believe it’s possible again. And anything less than that is not necessarily considered failure, but there’s always that room for, unfortunately, improvement. And you’re focusing on what you did not accomplish rather than focusing on what you did accomplish.” Dominique Dawes on perfectionism.

And most gymnast that are really good, Olympic gymnast, that are extremely great at what they did, they usually are not very satisfied. You know, at the end of the day, they look at the performance and they say, “Oh, if only I would have pointed my toe during this move or I straightened my knee a little bit better, or if I didn’t take that hop in the landing instead of getting that nine, eight I would have gotten that nine, nine.” And that’s a horrible mentality, a horrible mindset to take outside of the sport of gymnastics in the rest of your life.

Now, it worked for me somewhat in the sport as I was training for three Olympic Games, but it would be guaranteed failure as a mother, and guaranteed failure as a wife today, and guaranteed failure as a businesswoman today. And so it is been very challenging for me to reframe the way that I, you know, look at life. My husband does remind me we are very opposite. And he reminds me that I still have that mindset of being a gymnast where I do walk around the house or just everyday life, and I’ll see some of the things that “this problem needs to be solved,” or, “this is out of place,” or “I need to correct this,” instead of, he always says looking at the things to be thankful for, or looking at the positive in a situation instead of harping on the things that you need to change.

“[Perfectionism] worked for me somewhat in the sport as I was training for three Olympic Games, but it would be guaranteed failure as a mother, and guaranteed failure as a wife today, and guaranteed failure as a businesswoman today.” Dominique Dawes

And, you know, not that I’m not a happy person, I am a happy person, but gymnasts are always striving for perfectionism. And in many of my motivational talks, I’ve really talked about the best way to fail in life is to try for perfection because you’re not going to always, if at any point in life, reach perfection, and then you won’t be satisfied. And so, as a mom, I’m learning to let go, let God, learn to pick my battles, learn to appreciate and have that attitude of gratitude instead of harping on the negativity, which, unfortunately, at 42 I’m still having to work on. But again, it helped me to become successful as an athlete. But again, as a mom and a wife, it will not and I’m very aware of that.

Jessica: Yeah. Perfectionism is really what I realized I struggled with it after becoming a mom because I realized I have this mentality of, “OK. If I just put perfect parenting in, then perfect kids will come out.” And there is no perfect parenting. And then that’s a lot of pressure to put on my kids.

Dominique: On the kids, yeah.

Jessica: And so, it took just a certain level of surrender of me going, “You know what? I could do the best job ever. And one of my kids could end up in jail at age 30,” you know?

Dominique: Yes. Yeah.

Jessica: And that’s frightening.

Dominique: We’re praying not, but…

Jessica: We’re praying not, but realizing it’s not all on me.

Dominique: Yeah. It’s not.

 

The Magnificent Seven: All Collaboration, No Ego

Jessica: And we talk at Noonday a lot, the company that I run, about this concept of choosing and, that we need to live lives of paradox. And that can help free us from perfectionism, that we can be athletic and feminine, that we can be strong, and we can be vulnerable, and sort of embracing that idea. And when I think about elite gymnastics, it’s such an individual sport. And I’m curious, how have you held that tension of the competitive aspect of earning a spot on a team with that need for friendship and that love for your teammates? Because I feel like we have so much to learn about sisterhood and choosing collaboration over competition, and I just can imagine there were so many opportunities for you to learn sistering while still having this whole competitive aspect. I mean, that’s the ultimate paradox.

Dominique: Well, I will say, whenever there was someone in my group that we were training for the Olympics together, we were competitors and, as you mentioned, it is very much an individual sport. And so, it was very challenging to be close friends and to cheer on someone that was my competitor. So, when I was younger, it was really just myself and my coach training for the Olympics. I did not have a lot of people in my group back in the late ’80s and early ’90s that were striving for the Olympics at my coach’s gym. It was really just me.

And so there were many other gymnasts there, but they weren’t quite at my level. So, it was easy for—and I’m a very competitive person by nature—it was very easy for me to be friends with someone that was not competing against me, because if I didn’t see them as a threat. But when I became older and there were more girls in my group that were very talented, it really lit a flame under me. And not that I wasn’t happy for their success and they ended up qualifying at championships, and making it to Olympic trials, and some actually did make it to the Olympics, but it was very hard to be friends with someone that is your competitor. Not that they’re your enemy, but you’re trying to beat them.

And so, I will say the majority of gymnasts that are on the Olympic team, that I’ve been on Olympics with, we were competitors. And there is that one aspect of the Olympic performance that it’s all focused on teams, and all of us did take our ego out of it. And we recognize it, “OK. This is the time to put competitiveness into the backstage and to really focus on what’s gonna help this team get on top of that podium.” And I will say the best team that was able to do that was a ’96 team, and we are known as The Magnificent Seven. We won. We made history. And really, every single one of those six girls that were on the team with me, they took ego out of it.

“All of us did take our ego out of it. … We are known as The Magnificent Seven. We won. We made history. And really, every single one of those six girls that were on the team with me, they took ego out of it.” Dominique Dawes

And because they took the ego out of it, we were able to make history. Not one person allow the fact that, you know, they were very good at what they did, that they focused on themselves. They didn’t focus on themselves, they really focused on the team. And that’s why we were able to make history. And so even as I was marching out in Atlanta, Georgia to perform at the Olympic Games, I remember having a bit of a meltdown mentally because it was a significant amount of pressure that I felt, that all my teammates felt.

But I was like, “Oh my goodness, I don’t think I can do this.” And I just broke down in tears. And Amanda Borden who was our team captain then, amazing girl, she knelt down with me and we prayed together. And I will say if that was an individual competition, anyone else would look over at me and be like, “Great. That gymnast is down.” Like, if that’s one…

Jessica: Let’s find an even more of a weak spot.

Dominique: Exactly, one less competitor to worry about. But because it was a team competition, you know, I love the fact that really she took her ego out of it. She recognized that, you know, “we really Dom to perform well for this team to get on top of this podium. So let me help her out during this moment.” Now, mind you, Amanda is such a sweet girl that she probably would have done that for an individual competition anyway. But that was a clear example of someone that chose to make it about the team and not about themselves.

And, you know, that’s just been something that I’ve learned even today as a wife, and even today in the different teams that I have been a part of the co-chair of the President’s Council, or working closely with a number of different nonprofits or corporations to achieve a goal. I have to take my ego out of it if I want the team to accomplish that common goal, whatever it may be, to empower, to educate, to inspire group of individuals. I really have to not feel as if only my voice is the voice that needs to be heard. And I need to learn to step back, to listen, to be open to criticism, to be open to change, and to be open to be led by someone else. And, you know, ego is definitely something hard to put in the back burner, but it’s like the greatest thing that I’ve learned throughout my athletic career, and even today as a businesswoman and as a mother and a wife.

“I have to take my ego out of it if I want the team to accomplish that common goal, whatever it may be, to empower, to educate, to inspire group of individuals. I really have to not feel as if only my voice is the voice that needs to be heard. And I need to learn to step back, to listen, to be open to criticism, to be open to change, and to be open to be led by someone else.” Dominique Dawes

Jessica: I mean, that’s like another tension to hold is how can we be ambitious and selfless? Like, how do we hold those things because you took your best self out on the floor that day, and you still have that drive of being competitive, but then you would also welcome in this idea of collaboration with your team. That’s such a…

Dominique: Well, and the great thing is we’re friends today. Now, we’re no longer competing against each other. But we had a 20-year reunion a few years ago, and it was out west. And I was like, “Oh my goodness, I have not seen all of these six women in so long. And it was just phenomenal to just catch up with them and to hear about how life has changed for them.” And everyone seemed to be very fulfilled, very happy, very content with where they’re at as wives, as mothers.

And really, the whole focus that we chatted with behind closed doors, other than the fact that we were, you know, being interviewed was on our kids, talking about how amazing it is to be a mother, and how much harder it is to be a mother than it was to, you know, train for an Olympics or to be a gymnast, you know? And so, it was a joyful moment, I will say, for each and every one of those girls. And I look forward to another reunion in a few years.

 

Become a Noonday Ambassador!

Jessica: Hey, friends, I’m gonna interrupt this awesome conversation for a hot second. So, you guys know that I am the founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection. And at Noonday, we are passionate about entrepreneurship that changes the world. So, we partner with Noonday Collection Ambassadors. Ambassadors launch their own social impact businesses, they earn an income, and they make a difference for the Artisan families that Noonday partners with all over the world. And I have a Noonday Collection Ambassador with me right now. Katie, welcome to the show.

Katie: Thank you so much.

Jessica: So, Katie is a full-time child life specialist during the day. But I guess that wasn’t enough impact for her because she also decided to launch her own business as a Noonday Collection Ambassador. And Katie, I’m curious, why is it important to you to be able to do both?

Katie: Well, as a child life specialist, I get to help kids and families cope with the hospital that looks a lot of different ways over the course of the week. But I was really missing that global impact part of it. I’ve been to Thailand, I’d heard about human trafficking, and really the woes of poverty, and didn’t know how I was supposed to make an impact until I went to a Noonday Collection Trunk Show. And that’s when I knew that I really needed to be part of this company to be able to make that global impact with the time that I have, and the abilities that I have.

“I really needed to be part of this company to be able to make that global impact with the time that I have and the abilities that I have.” Katie on why she became a Noonday Ambassador

Jessica: So, tell me what your Ambassador business gives you that’s different from your day job.

Katie: Well, I have been able to travel with Noonday. I have been able to use my income to give back to organizations that I really care about. And I’ve been able to really make an impact globally. When I go to these countries with Noonday, I am able to see the impact that we’re making in communities. But on top of that, I’ve really been so encouraged and blessed by the Ambassador community. And not only that, I’ve then been able to encourage other women to join us in this global impact. And that has just been an amazing, amazing opportunity.

Jessica: Well, I for one, I’m so glad that you said yes. And if you’re listening to this right now and you’re thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I feel so similar to what Katie is feeling and I wanna be a part of this,” we want you to join us. Katie, and I would love to have you in our Noonday Ambassador sisterhood. So, head on over to goingscared.noondaycollection.com to see if this is a right fit for you. We would love to have you. So, head on over, it’s goingscared.noondaycollection.com. Thank you so much, Katie for joining us today. And back to the conversation.

So, I wanna hear more about your decision to retire. Actually, I have about 50 employees and I hired my first gymnast. So, she…

 

Retiring the Leotard

Dominique: Oh, wow. OK.

Jessica: Yeah. She’s 24. I mean, she was a gymnast her entire life all the way through college. And then even after college, she was a journalist that, you know, would really interviewed gymnast. And then this is her first job that has nothing to do with gymnastics. And, of course, now, I have this total bias. I’m like, “Can I just hire athletes from here?” And now, like, she’s the hardest worker. She’s just incredible.

But I look at her and I’m like, “This is so crazy because your whole … I’m getting to know you in this whole…” like, I know nothing about her gymnastics, like, I don’t know that part of her life. I know this part of her life now. And I’m aware of kind of that identity crisis that must happen when you truly lead. Like, there’s no way to kinda sort of still keep up with gymnastics as a hobby. I mean, it really is a retiring…

Dominique: Yeah, it’s over.

Jessica: It’s over. I mean, it’s over. And you guys meddled in Sydney and then you walked away. I mean, how did you know that this was your time to walk away?

Dominique: Well, first, I will say we did not actually meddle in Sydney. We should have meddled in Sydney. We ended up getting fourth place for our team competition. And there was so much chatter about one of the young Chinese…

Jessica: I thought you guys did. OK.

Dominique: Yeah. Well, no, no, one of the Chinese gymnasts. There was so much chatter about them being underage. And there was no proof. And then there was a Romanian gymnast even the tested positive for something that’s in Sudafed, that’s illegal. So anyway, they did not actually find out that the young gymnast was under age until nearly a decade later. So, he actually were awarded a bronze medal 10 years later. And I remember being 33 and being like, “I never thought I would have another Olympics around my neck.”

Jessica: Wow.

Dominique: Yeah. It was this surreal moment, but it was actually bittersweet because for my teammates that had never been to an Olympic Games, when we left being that we were in fourth place, we were viewed as a disappointment, we were viewed as, you know, how could this team follow the ’96 Olympic teams, you know, gold medal history making performance. And even after that, a lot of media kind of negated the fact that there was an Olympic team a part of the 2000 Olympics through the federation.

And so, those girls went through a very tough time for a good decade, and then for them to kinda get some justice, and get that bronze medal really was bittersweet because it’s quite different when you are awarded that medal at the Olympic Games in front of thousands and millions watching in front of your family and friends. But I will say, even prior to those Olympic Games, I knew I was done.

Jessica: Really?

Dominique: Not only physically. I knew I was like, “Well, I just love the sport. I have a passion. I can still do it physically.” And I remember, I was at the University of Maryland College Park, I was in an economics class. And I remember just thinking, “I really think I have one more Olympic Games in me,” you know? And this was in early, early 2000. And I had not put a leotard on in a good year and a half, and I had not been training. And I thought, “You know, let me give my coach a call.” I gave my coach a call. And honestly, in my gut, I was hoping that she would talk me out of it and say, “Dom, you are crazy. You’ve been to two Olympic Games. You’ve made history. You’ve had a wonderful athletic career. You turned it into a business,” like, “move on, you’re 23.” And she was like, “OK. Well, I’d love to see you at the gym tomorrow morning bright and early.” And I remember being like, “No way, I have not gotten out of bed before, like, 8:00 a.m. in so long that for me to be at practice at 6:00 a.m.” I thought was gonna be unheard of, but I kinda went back into that mode of that pursuit of getting ready for the Olympic Games, and making the sacrifice, and working hard. And I was at the gym the next day.

Now, it was a struggle. And throughout that six or so months, it took to qualify to those Olympic Games. I knew, “Hey, this is the last time. I’m definitely gonna hang my leotard up after this.” But I really did it because I still love the sport. And I also love the fans. And it is hard for an athlete to walk away from that, and not that I needed the applause or the accolades, but I continue to receive so many letters from fans saying how much they’d missed me out there, and they started watching the sport of gymnastics because of me, and their daughter’s named after me because of the impact I was able to make, and all these great things.

And I felt like, “You know what? If I can give people hope or that, you know, feeling of possibility one more time, let me do it.” And I did it. But after those Olympic Games, I knew, “Hey, you know what? I gotta close this chapter. And I’ve gotta figure out what God has in store for me in the next part of my life.” And I had already been doing motivational speaking, I had already been a spokesperson for different things, and I’ve been doing some TV work.

And I knew that that was something I felt like I was led towards, I went through a very dark period where I was very depressed because my identity was so wrapped up in being a gymnast, that I really felt like I lost my passion, my identity, you know, really my purpose in life. And when I was able to find those other platforms and recognize, “Hey, I can still empower this way. It’s just going about it in a different way, or I can inspire people this way, and I can find that next passion in life.”

And it took me a few years to recognize, “Hey, I do have a passion for motivational speaking. I do you have a passion for knowing that I can, you know, help people see the possibilities for their life.” And so, it just took a while. And that really just helped with the retirement of kind of hanging up that leotard and realizing, I will never wanna put it back on.

“It took me a few years to recognize … I do have a passion for motivational speaking. I do you have a passion for knowing that I can, you know, help people see the possibilities for their life. And so, it just took a while. And that really just helped with the retirement of kind of hanging up that leotard and realizing, I will never wanna put it back on.” Dominique Dawes

Jessica: You had a midlife crisis in your 20s.

Dominique: In my 20s, that’s so true, right?

Jessica: I mean, you started so young with your career, so that’s just what’s gonna happen. So, you have these three Olympics, but your third one, you approached kind of with a different mentality, it feels like. Did that feel different to you, or were you still filled with the same insecurity, and anxiety, and you’re competing to win, and anything less than winning was a disappointment, or were you able to enjoy it in a little bit of a new way that last Olympics?

Dominique: No, I still have the insecurities, I still had the self-doubt, I still had the fear. As a gymnast, you are on a stage, and you are to be judged, you know? And so, as we spoke about earlier, you’re striving for that perfect 10, but you know that they are going to see flaws. You know, that you’re human and you’re going to make mistakes. And so, I still had to battle those demons that were out there because I wasn’t gonna be perfect. And if I would have compared myself to my ’96 self, it wasn’t even comparable. And so, I will say, I did have a more realistic outlook where I was not out there to win, because my potential at that point in my career was not even to get on the podium individually.

Like, I knew there was so much more talent out there, and that I was not going to even compete with that. But I knew I can help my team in different ways. But at 23, it wasn’t … I peaked honestly in ’94, and I did very well in ’96. And then after that, I was still a highly competitive gymnast, but not so competitive that I could actually compete to win. So, I did have a more realistic outlook, but it does not mean that I did not battle the self-doubt, the insecurities, and the fears. And that’s something that I realize is almost like a personality that is somewhat that I developed in the sport of gymnastics. But I think it is also how I came out of the womb.

I have three daughters and a son, and I see that in one of my daughters already. And I’m like, “Oh, no, is it something that I did as a mother?” And I’m like, “You know what? No.” Like, it was how I was born. And I learned to manage it a certain way. And just gonna try to help her learn to manage any anxiety or fears that she has. But more importantly, when she’s gonna be out there performing, whatever it is that she’s going to pursue, or when she’s home, she’s gonnna know that she’s loved by her mother, and that she’s loved by her father unconditionally, and that she will have a strong belief in Christ. And so, I know with that, she’s going to be OK.

Jessica: Wow. And behind every strength is a weakness. I mean, because it’s also it served, you know?

Dominique: Mm-hmm.

Jessica: And so, again, it’s holding those tensions. Would you let your daughter pursue gymnastics or some sort of very laser-focused early onset career?

Dominique: It’s interesting, I was on the President’s Council with this … I’m not gonna say who I’m talking about, but the individual was a very, you know, a pretty accomplished athlete. And I was having a conversation with this individual, and he or she, because I don’t wanna specifically say anything was saying how they would not have, if they had children, they would not have their child to enter sport, and neither will their siblings, even. Even the sibling is chosen another sport for their children, for her niece because of what they saw what she went through.

And I will say this, you know, I’ve spoken to a number of my former teammates, not necessarily Olympians. And we’ve talked about how difficult and challenging physically and emotionally the road was. And so many of them were like, “Oh, I’m gonna put my child into sport. I love it so much. It’s great.” And now their children are grown, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s interesting. Your children aren’t gymnast,” you know? Like, and you were so set on, loving the sport so much, and you wanted that for your kid. But yet, you realize, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the life for everyone.” And I will say, “Have I put my children in the sport of gymnastics for mommy and me classes and beginner classes?” Yes, because I think just being a gymnastic…

Jessica: I can’t imagine being sitting next to Dominique Dawes during mommy and me gymnastics class.

Dominique: No, no, I’m not sitting there like in the middle split, act like I’m doing anything. But, you know, it’s fun. And I think it’s the greatest sport if you want your kids to develop a strong foundation to work on flexibility, coordination, strength. I mean, go to a gymnastics gym and you will see the strongest little people you will ever see pound for pound on this earth. However, it’s a huge commitment, and it comes at a cost. And it comes at a cost not only for the young athlete, but also for the family. And I know I want something different for my children and so does my husband. And we want to raise our children so much so that they are home for dinner the majority of the nights out of the week.

And then we understand weekends are sports and stuff, but we don’t want them travelling, you know, all the time. I mean, we have four kids, so what are we gonna be like, “OK. You fly with that kid, I fly with this kid, and then what about the other two,” you know? So, I love the sport for building a strong foundation, but I do not wanna put my kids in it competitively even if I see a significant amount of talent. Now, if my kids like, “No, I’m going to be a gymnast.” You know, I’m not going to fight her, but I know the time commitment that it takes. And I do think, you only have a childhood once. And I want my kid’s childhood to be playful, to be fun, to be free, to be about, yes, learning all these amazing qualities and characteristics for later in life.

But I really want them to recognize that faith and family is first. There’s academics, there’s sports, there’s extracurricular, but I want them to recognize that we’re not going to adopt with him like self-sacrifice. You know, I lived in the gym and it worked for me. Like, I truly believe that’s what God had in store for me. He wanted me to be a gymnast. I was up at times 4:45 in the morning when I lived at home with my parents, and 5:00 a.m. in the morning when I lived with my coach. And I trained from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. And then I was in school 8:30 to 2:20, and back to gym 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. at night. That’s not the schedule I want for my children, period. That is the schedule that worked for me. But that’s not what I have in store for my children.

 

Sports, Grit, and Online Dating

Jessica: Do you also though think you learned about grit, and discipline, and all of the good things that you’ve learned? And do you wonder like, “Gosh, how am I going to instill that in my kids?”

Dominique: Yes. I can still instill that in my kids. I mean, we have put them in soccer, or we look forward to putting them in lacrosse. Right now, I have them in ballet.

Jessica: They’re still into sports.

Dominique: I mean, they’re still in sports, and they’re still in activities. Trust me, ballerinas like primaballerinas, they’re up first thing in the morning, I’m sure, training, or swimmers are in the pool at 5:00 a.m. I’m not doing that. Like, I’m not, you know? But again, if my kids like, “Oh, I wanna be a swimmer.” I guess I’ll be up at 4:00 a.m. with them, taking them to the pool at 5:00 a.m. Being that I accomplished what I accomplished, I also don’t want my children to be compared to me.

I don’t want them to feel the pressure that they aren’t good enough or they have to live up to not my expectations that I have for them, but the world’s expectations possibly that may be put up on them, like, the pressure like, “Oh, this is Dominique Dawes child.” And just people having certain expectations. I think it’d be nice for them to make their own path and whatever it is that they have a love or interest in. And that’s why my husband and I are both exposing them to so many different things to find out, hey, what do they love to do? And then also what do they have a talent in?

And I can still help them learn about sacrifice, and commitment, and hard work, and them not live in a gymnasium for 36 plus hours a week. They can still learn about commitment practicing a certain number of hours a week. I had a young lady that worked with me for a short period of time to help me be able to work a little bit more part time, prior to birthing the twin. And she was a division one scholarship athlete in soccer at the University of Kentucky. Great girl, great personality.

And I asked her, “Hey. So how was it being a soccer player? Like, what was your life like in junior high or in high school?” And she said, “Oh, I trained about two to three days a week for about two to three hours.” And I was like, “Are you serious?” And she’s like, “Yeah. Why? What’s wrong with that?” Like, she was like it was, you know, that’s a huge … and that’s like that’s kind of almost normal. Like, let’s say if it was 3 days, 2 to 3 hours, it’s maximum 9 hours, almost 10 hours, maybe add some stretching in there and conditioning a week, and then you know, she had a game or 2, that allowed her to not only be a great athlete and to earn a division one scholarship, but she was also able to have a more well-balanced life.

She had friends that were not just soccer players because she could actually spend time with her family, with her friends. And that’s what I desire for my kids to have a little bit more of a well-balanced life. Gymnasts tend to, if they’re Olympic level gymnast, you tend to have a very sheltered life because your life is really all about gymnastics. And many of them don’t even go to school full time. They will do more of a homeschool structure or half day school structure. And again it’s all about accomplishing that one Olympic dream.

Jessica: Wow. That’s such a unique lifestyle. And you’re like, yeah, you’ve lived it. Like, that was your life. How did you meet your husband?

Dominique: Well, you know, if you asked him, he would say, “It’s mutual friends,” which we do have a great deal of mutual friends. But I actually met him online. And I have no concern about letting people know this publicly because I think that number of my friends have met their current spouses online because I wanna let people know, “Hey,” you know … now, it can be very scary. There were some bizarre people online. But the good thing is online you don’t use your real name, number one. And then number two, people really can’t hide crazy if you’re communicating with them enough.

And so, he was very normal. I found him very attractive. And it was funny because I flew out to LA to meet up with my best friend. I did some work out there, and we were just hanging out. And she said, “Hey, let me check your online profile,” you know, “Let’s see who you’re talking to.” And I was like, “well, there’s a lot of bizarre guys.” And then here’s this new guy started talking to. And so, she looked at a photo of him and this other guy and she recognized his best friend. And come to find out, their families knew each other. And her brothers played soccer with him and his brother. And so, I was like, “Oh,” because I had some major trust issues. So, I was very much more open to communicating with him, meeting him, and then coming to find out our paths had crossed a few times.

Jessica: No way.

Dominique: Yeah. I know. Bizarre, right? Yeah. And a number of my friends knew him. So, I was like, “Oh, you know, maybe this was, you know, a good match for me.” So, yeah.

Jessica: Was he living in LA?

Dominique: No. No, no, no, no. It was online. So, I was at the time living in Maryland and so was he.

Jessica: OK.

Dominique: Yeah. No, I was not interested in the long-distance thing.

Jessica: How long did you guys date for?

Dominique: We dated for goodness, a good year and a half.

Jessica: And had he follows your career?

Dominique: Not at all, he says, even though I’m still trying to, you know?

Jessica: Really?

Dominique: I know. I know exactly, right? No. But he says he wasn’t living in the Maryland area when I was … during my Olympic Games, he was actually away at boarding school and then off at college. And I’m like, “How did you miss the ’96 Olympics?”

Jessica: Like, “Come on.”

Dominique: Well, he was like, “How many boarding schools would you say of boys would stop to watch women’s gymnastics,” you know? And I was like, “That’s actually really true,” you know? So, yeah, I think there’s a possibility that he did not watch me at the ’96 Olympics, which is great because honestly when he knew nothing about my career, I was like, “This is a match made in heaven, you know?”

Jessica: Yeah. What a relief for you to just not…

Dominique: It was a relief.

 

Letting Go and Letting God

Jessica: …bring any of that. What would she say to someone right now who’s had, maybe not gymnastics, but they’ve had just a very laser-focused goal, career, and now they’re in the middle of a complete facelift or change, like, completely different career move, and they’re feeling a little bit of that identity crisis? What would you say to someone that would help them through that process of the messy middle of figuring it out?

Dominique: You know, I would say that I’m actually personally going a bit through that as a mom now of four. And I’ve backed away from the work that I’ve been doing for so many years to focus on my family. And now, this year I’m thinking, “OK. Let me get back out there. Let me pursue a new passion in a different way or an old passionate in a different way.” But there’s a great deal of fear. There’s a great deal of anxiety.

“I’ve backed away from the work that I’ve been doing for so many years to focus on my family. And now, this year I’m thinking, “OK. Let me get back out there. Let me pursue a new passion in a different way or an old passionate in a different way.” But there’s a great deal of fear. There’s a great deal of anxiety.” Dominique Dawes

But I think, you know, recognizing, if you face your fears, if you take things one step at a time, if you seek advice from healthy, positive people … what always helped me in my younger years as an adult was to have mentor. And I will say this, I didn’t make one Olympic game on my own. I always had a coach. I had amazing teammates that pushed me, and I pushed them. And I think that is beneficial to recognize—that you’re not alone, and that you wanna have that coach or that mentor that’s going to encourage you, that’s gonna help you light that flame, that’s gonna help direct you that you can really be truly open and honest with. And they can give you sound advice.

Also having a wonderful spouse, a wonderful partner in life that’s gonna support you. But be realistic with you. You don’t want someone that’s like, “Oh, you know, the sky is the limit,” you know? But just be realistic about things and say,” Hey, maybe look at things this way” or maybe set your standards not necessarily lower, but just kinda help you see things in a different light, and I think to be open to that. And also lean on your faith.

I went through a period where I was not talking to God, I wasn’t praying, I was extremely sleep-deprived or hormonal. And I remember thinking, why am I so depressed? You know, I have everything that I had dreamed of. I was married. I had four children, very, very young. And why am I not able to enjoy this aspect of my life, something that I had prayed for? And I sought advice. I am a convert. I’m Catholic going on nearly almost seven years now, and going to confession and talking to a priest and saying, “Hey, you know, I’m sinning,” or, you know, “I’ve sinned,” and you know, “I need to ask God for forgiveness,” and seeking advice and getting back into the Word, and then having that conversation with Christ really helped kind of release maybe that stronghold that was on me.

And it really helped change what I was focusing on or … we spoke about earlier, about perfectionist mentality and focusing on the negativity and the things that need to be changed. And it helped kinda change my sight of, “Hey you know, this is what you should be focused on having that attitude of gratitude, of being thankful.” And I think that rings true for if you’re taking this next step in life and trying to change into a different career path, make sure your sight is where God wants it to be and not on what you think it should be, and not to always try to force things.

In gymnastics, it was always about “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” And that’s about forcing, and controlling, and having that choleric personality and attitude that “I’m going to make this happen.” And many times, when you let go and you stop controlling, things will work out for you and opportunities will open up. And I think it’s interesting how you can, instead of focusing on working harder, working smarter, and things work out.

“In gymnastics, it was always about ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ And that’s about forcing, and controlling, and having that choleric personality and attitude that ‘I’m going to make this happen.’ And many times, when you let go and you stop controlling, things will work out for you and opportunities will open up.” Dominique Dawes

Jessica: Powerful words coming from an Olympic athlete. So what is on the horizon for you? I mean, I feel crazy asking that because I know you’ve got a house full of, like, four kids, five and under. But I also know that, you know, you’ve got purpose on your life in addition to motherhood, and you’re such an incredible communicator, and you inspire people continually.

 

Purposeful Horizons

Dominique: You know, it’s funny. I’m like, well, to get dinner ready within 30 minutes is on my horizon.

Jessica: Yeah, I know, I know. Right.

Dominique: No. You know, first, it really is about being a wife and being a mother, first and foremost. And if my pursuits don’t fit into the lifestyle that I’m desiring for my family, then I really do recognize that it’s not something that I wanna pursue. And I do believe that I’ve been blessed with this opportunity to still motivate, and inspire, and empower people, and educate people on living a healthy lifestyle, on pursuing their goals, or reaching their full potential that, you know, I look forward to, in 2019, continuing to do the motivational talks on the road, but then also doing something locally that I can work closely with young kids as well as family.

And I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like. But I know in time, God will reveal that. But it is amazing being a mom of four and constantly ripping and running with my kids, I wanna just make sure that whatever profession, that I’m truly going to feel as if I’m called to be in, that it’s something that, like I said, will fit into my family’s lifestyle, and not that I will put my kids in the back burner, or put my husband on the back burner, or put things that I’m truly feeling thankful for today on the back burner. So, it is the motivational…

Jessica: Which is I bet, you’re aware of that because in your personality type, it’s probably easy to just start going and pursuing. And there’s like only one gear.

Dominique: You know, in that one gear right now is being a stay-at-home mom, but yet, doing a few business things on the side, and I thought, “Oh, I would be like some other athletes that I know where they’re constantly on road and yet they have full time help for their kids.” And it’s interesting because being a mom, not that I don’t love my work, and I do love my work, and I still have a passion for it, but it is very clear that my family is first. And I will not sacrifice that because I know that having them having a happy childhood with their mom and dad, giving of their time, not self-sacrificing completely where I do nothing for myself, but giving up my time is something that no one can take away.

“It is very clear that my family is first. And I will not sacrifice that because I know that having them having a happy childhood with their mom and dad … is something that no one can take away.” Dominique Dawes

And I wanna make sure that my kids do realize, especially if this time in their life being so, so young that I’m there for them. And I know that mommy can put her profession and her career on the back burner for a little while longer, and allow … and as a mom, these are such magical moments when they’re so young. And I just wanna make sure that they recognize that they are me and my husband’s priority.

Jessica: OK. Before we wrap up, I do have to ask. You mentioned that you like to encourage people to have a healthy lifestyle. What is a former Olympic athlete’s workout regimen now? Like, how do you even do that? Like, I just can’t imagine you like hitting up the elliptical, you know?

Dominique: No. Well, it’s funny you say that because honestly, I’m not even gonna say I’m ashamed to say that I’m not hitting the gym these days. My workout really is keeping up with four kids. And I am constantly on the go with them. They are extremely active. I need to start posting how active I am with them because they just really keep me up and out. This is the longest I’ve sat in a really, really long time. But I’m up and out with my kids. And I mean, I just posted the other day how my sitting room is a bouncy house. And it’s not just about blowing up the bouncy house and sitting and watching my kids have fun, but I’m out there in there, bouncing around with them.

I love doing dance parties, I love getting down on the ground and acting like I’m some bear running around. And, you know, they get a blast out of it, or turning on chugga-chugga choo-choo on my Alexa, you know, Echo thing, and blasting the music, and pulling my kids along with a blanket. It’s actually a workout when you have four kids on a blanket, and you’re going around your whole house back and forth.

And so I’m not gonna say that my heart rate is going up as trainers say it should go, or I’m sweating or anything like that, but I know that I’m staying active, I’m at my pre-pregnancy weight, and more importantly, I’m having fun with my kids that I’m building lasting memory. I’ll get back to the gym someday soon. But right now, it’s really about just staying active with these extremely active four kids.

Jessica: Gosh, I loved my time with Dominique. I do not want the call to end. Make sure you keep up with her on dominiquedawes.com. Before I leave you, I just wanted to remind you to please go leave an iTunes review. You guys, it’s super quick and it helps conversations like this reach more people. I love what Purpose Coffee Company wrote. She said, “At first, I cherry picked the episodes I was interested in. And then yesterday I had eight hours of driving to drop my son off of grandparents. I listened to Going Scared for the entire drive. I was inspired, intrigued, and introspective, got home, spent the whole evening telling my husband about every episode. Thanks Jessica, for letting us listen in on such great conversations.”

I look forward to reading more reviews on Going Scared, so head on over to iTunes and let me know how you are connecting to these conversations. Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. And Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. I’m Jessica Honegger and until next time. Let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.