By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Many know Dominique Moceanu as the bright-eyed, petite dynamo who competed as the youngest member of the United States women’s gymnastics team that won gold in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
What they might not know is that in addition to success, she endured hardships and challenges: hiding injuries from coaches whom she describes as “abusive,” suing for emancipation from her parents over money management issues, struggling with body image and, in 2007, finding out she has a sister who, born without legs, was given up for adoption at birth.
On Sept. 18, Moceanu, 32, will talk about her life experiences at a special event at London High School. Doors open at 6 p.m. followed by the program at 6:30. After the talk, Moceanu will answer questions and sign books, including her memoir, “Off Balance,” and her Disney/Hyperion book series, “The Go-For-The-Gold Gymnasts.”
Admission is free with tickets, which can be picked up at the London Public Library. The library and the Friends of the Library are sponsoring the event.
Interview with Moceanu
The following are excerpts from a phone interview the Madison Messenger recently conducted with Moceanu who lives in Cleveland and, in addition to working as a public speaker and author, remains active in gymnastics through camps and clinics across the country.
Messenger: What prompted you to write your memoir now? (“Off Balance” came out in June 2012)
Moceanu: “I was asked to write it when I was 18, but I wanted some distance from my emancipation from my parents, and I wanted to be completely candid. But I needed time to do that. I was processing some deep emotions.
“It took me seven years to write it all. I really felt my story was something people could learn from… There’s a lot of fear, instilled at an early age, to never say anything negative (about the gymnastics world) because you will be shunned. I felt sharing the truth far outweighed any consequences.
“Writing the book was a great healing process… When it came out, I received tons of support publicly and privately.”
Messenger: Considering the trials you went through as a gymnast, did you actually enjoy the sport itself?
Moceanu: “I never wanted it to come across that I hated the sport. It’s the adults who can be inhumane at times, cruel. That should not happen. There’s a lack of respect; they can be demeaning behind closed doors. We need to change that mentality… It’s a matter of changing the culture of our sport.”
Messenger: How have your experiences shaped you as a mother? (Moceanu and her husband, former Ohio State University gymnast Dr. Michael Canales, have two children.)
Moceanu: “I had a turbulent upbringing, so I have no tolerance for abuse. Abuse is inappropriate in any form.
“Children should have a peaceful home environment where they feel safe and protected. I want my children to never be afraid to tell me their aches, pains, worries.
“I want them to find their passion in life and become good citizens. We are there to guide them.
“With sports, we will make sure the right coaches are guiding them. We know what to look for.”
Messenger: What is the theme of your “Go For The Gold” book series for young readers?
Moceanu: “They’re about the ideal coach and athlete scenario. It was my dream to write children’s books, and there’s not much out there with gymnastics as the focus. “The books talk about acceptance, body image, friendship, injuries. Each book goes through a challenge and a lesson to be learned.”
Messenger: What was it like finding out at age 26 that you have a second sister? (Jennifer Bricker, born six years after Moceanu, was adopted and raised by an Illinois couple. Despite having no legs, she excelled in sports, won awards as a power tumbler in the Junior Olympics, and is an aerialist and acrobat.)
Moceanu: “It was the biggest shock of my life. It changed so many things I thought of my world.
“At the time I found out, I was getting my degree, I was very pregnant, and my dad was dying. Then to find out I was gaining a sister…it was a lot at one time, but it came to me when it was supposed to.
“When we met, we really hit it off. I told her she was going to be an auntie soon, which made her know she was accepted. We have gotten closer over the years.
“It’s just amazing to have another sibling out there who has the same mannerisms, the same features as you do.”
Messenger: In your public speaking engagements, what message do you try to convey?
Moceanu: “My main goal is to be inspirational. We all have challenges, and we can all turn negative situations into positives. “I also talk about forgiveness… because you need to heal and move forward, which is not always an easy thing to achieve.”
For tickets to Dominique Moceanu’s appearance at London High School, stop by the London Public Library, 20 E. First St., or call (740) 852-9543. Tickets are required to ensure available seating. Those without tickets are not guaranteed seats. More information is available at www.mylondonlibrary.org/moceanu.