Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dominique Dawes

The sport of gymnastics is demanding and requires stamina, determination and plenty of concentration. World renowned three time Olympic medalist Dominique Dawes has all those qualities and more. Dawes was born in 1976, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her parents did not push her into the sport. She actually had plenty of her own desire to be the one doing the pushing. Her parents enrolled her in the classes at age 6, due to her constant jumping on the furniture and tumbling down the stairs. She was the one who provided the drive and energy to pursue her interests. Her parents were there as supporters.

Dominique trained at a club in Wheaton, Maryland, under former University of Maryland gymnast Kelli Hill. Recognizing the young girl's natural talents, Hill encourage Don Arnold and Loretta Dawes, Dominique's parents, to get her into as many classes as they could afford. While she was unsure of whether the young girl had the attitude or the emotional stamina for the sport, Kelli Hill knew Dominique might be great some day. Dominique traveled to the gym every day for a two hour practice before school and after school, another five hours. She does not believe her childhood was any different than other kids. She has stated that other kids have after school activities and older teens have jobs. Her job was just slightly different, requiring long physical work outs.

By age 10, Dawes was competing in junior division U.S. championship events and was competing in international competitions by age 12. In 1990, she took third place in the all around junior division National Championships.

Dawes has more Olympic team medals than any other in her sport. She has three team medals and has competed in three Olympic games. This is a challenge, because young girls' bodies are more suited to the balance and movements of the sport. However, She competed in her 2nd Olympic games in 1996, at age 20. She made a great contribution to the U.S. team's gold medal in the competition. In 2000, she again competed in the Olympics in Sydney, contributing to her team's bronze medal, which was not awarded until 2010, after China was stripped of its medal for having an underage participant. Competing beyond the teen years is difficult for any gymnast, due to the many changes the body goes through and particularly the changing center of gravity. Competing twice after her teens says quite a bit about Dominique's drive and courage.

In 1991 Dawes began competing in more international events and earned a slot on the U.S. women's Olympic team in 1992. She trained hard, working through tendonitis and Osgood Schlatter's disease during the Olympic training period. She even tried some new and more difficult moves that she used during the 1992 Olympics. She and Betty Okino are the first African American gymnasts to earn Olympic medals for the U.S. Dawes put in two crowd pleasing performances in both the 1993 and 1994 World Championships, though minor errors cost her points. Shannon Miller, who often competed with Dawes, won the 1994 championship. Dawes became U.S. National Champion again in 1994 and continue to train for Olympic trials, to secure a spot on the 1996 team. After her 2nd Olympics, Dawes withdrew from competition for a time, then came back briefly in 1998, long enough to place 9th all around at nationals and also to secure a spot on the 2000 Women's Olympic team.

Though Dawes no longer competes, her life has been full and she has made many contributions to society. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in communications, in 2002, from the University of Maryland. She has worked in acting, modeling and television production. She has also played a role in the Broadway rendition of Grease. From 2004 to 2006 she served as President of the Women's Sports Federation, as the youngest president in the organization's history. She has served as Girl Scouts of America spokeswomen for a major campaign and has supported autism events, including a national rally in Washington D.C. Her younger brother was born with autism and has been one of her greatest fans and her motivation to support a worthy cause. Dawes has always been successful in many endeavors. She was a high school honor student and Prom Queen, even through the long hours of training with little time for socializing.

Dawes has served as a commentator for later Olympic games and worked for Yahoo Weekend News. She continues to cover fitness topics for Yahoo News. She was also appointed Co-chair of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, by President Barack Obama. She is still a very shy and reserved person, when it comes to the fame that winning Olympic medals has brought. She does not focus on the history she has made and continues to look forward to what she can accomplish in the future. Often she is seen on the street and asked for autographs. She is still shocked to this day, that people will actually recognize her and often feels very awkward about her notoriety.

Dawes does indeed have a very humble view of herself. She has always admired rival Shannon Miller and says that Miller has sometimes helped her motivate herself to do better in her sport. She has earned the respect of past Olympic Women's team members, like the well known Mary Lou Retton. Retton has commented that Dawes is a real 90's gymnast, with strength, determination and plenty of creativity to design her own moves.

It is likely that Dawes will go on to do many more great things with her life. Most recently, she appeared on the hit show Extreme Home Makeover, as a guest. Like other athletes, Dawes shows courage and determination. Her humble nature allows her to succeed in her current career in journalism as well. While she is authoritative, she comes across as just another girl, no better or worse than any other. Dawes does not focus on making history as a female African American athlete. She continues to work hard at everything she does. In addition to her career and support of worthy causes, she also teaches young girls who are interested in the sport of gymnastics.