Dynamic Determination

by Karen Nimetz | Apr 18, 2024
Dynamic Determination
 At the tender age of 11, Dominique Dawes dared to dream of Olympic glory, as many young gymnasts do. However, unlike others, her unwavering determination and unstoppable perseverance transformed that dream into a remarkable reality. With a rigorous training schedule, averaging about 36 hours a week, Dawes’s years of hard work and dedication paid off when she made the 1992 Olympic team at age 15. After winning a team bronze medal that year, Dawes, nicknamed “Awesome Dawesome,” went on to win an individual bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics, where she and her teammates, known as the “Magnificent Seven,” took home the gold medal in the team event. Dawes returned to the Olympics in 2000, once again winning a bronze medal for the team event. Beyond her impressive physical feats, Dawes also made history as the first African American gymnast to qualify, compete and win an individual medal in the Olympics.

Dawes attributes her resilience, self-discipline and unmatched commitment to her love of the sport and her teammates.

“Whenever I needed encouragement, they were always there by my side,” she says. “As a teammate I tried my best to lift their spirits as well, as the sport of gymnastics demanded such a vast amount of commitment and it could be physically, mentally and emotionally grueling. The support of my teammates really helped carry me through.”

Though she is no longer in contact with her former teammates, Dawes was able to connect with them at a reunion in 2016 at the Olympic trials. “When we were together, we didn’t discuss our gymnastics careers,” she recalls. “Instead, we talked about the most important parts of our lives, which are our spouses and our kids.” Dawes notes that she and her teammates do occasionally reach out to each other via social media. “I think we are truly each other’s greatest fans. Most importantly I love to hear when they are doing well personally, but professionally is something nice to celebrate as well.”

While Dawes has many fond memories of her gymnastics career, she recognizes the significant personal sacrifices she made to achieve her Olympic dreams. In 2016, after news broke of the abuse allegations against United States women’s national gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, Dawes began reflecting on the toxic culture in the sport. Though not a victim of Nassar’s, Dawes says the newsmade me process my 18-year career in the sport of gymnastics and I started really understanding the level of abuse that I went through both physically and mentally.” It was then that Dawes began making plans to open her own gymnastics academy that would provide a safe and empowering environment for young gymnasts. 

After signing a lease in 2019, the first Dominique Dawes Gymnastics & Ninja Academy opened in her home state of Maryland in July 2020. Opening a new business in the midst of a global pandemic would certainly intimidate most people, but the ever-resilient Dawes stayed focused on her goal.

“It could not have been more cathartic for us—for myself, for a number of my teammates and some of my more positive coaches, which was very few,” she says. “They entered the facility in tears knowing that we desire to do things a certain way. It has been healing not only to myself but for so many people that went through similar experiences in the sport of gymnastics.”

The success of the Dominique Dawes Gymnastics & Ninja Academy has led to a second location, with plans to soon open a third. Dawes says she looks forward to scaling the businesses but wisely notes, “I’m going to be gradual about my growth because I understand there’s so much still that needs to be filled on the foundation level for me to be able to sustain massive growth of these academies.” Her main objective remains clear. “I want to spread the word that the culture of gymnastics does not have to be a harsh, critical or high pressure-filled environment; that things can be done in a healthy way.”

As founder and CEO, Dawes is involved in every aspect of the academies, stating, “changing the culture of the sport of gymnastics matters to me. Making sure that everyone who has the opportunity to be a part of this business, hopefully, has a positive experience, is my goal. It’s about leaving a lasting legacy and that’s very meaningful to me.”

Not only does Dawes know exactly what an aspiring gymnast wants and needs in a facility, she also relates to what parents are seeking when signing their child up for lessons. The proud mother of four vividly remembers the challenging and at times cruel situations she was placed in as a young child and says “that was not something I felt comfortable exposing my children to. I don’t want my children to go through what I went through in the gymnastics arena or any arena for that matter.” Instead, she says, her academies focus on an environment of “happy, healthy kids.” She adds that the students arrive “smiling, eager and excited to see their coach, often a role model to them, and leave the facility still smiling but sweating because they worked hard.”

In addition to the work at her facilities, Dawes is also a gifted motivational speaker, sharing inspiring stories of her life’s journey. This April, Dawes will be headlining the Heart of Florida United Way’s 17th Annual Women United Luncheon presented by the Walt Disney World Resort, at the Hilton Orlando. A common message in many of the encouraging speeches that Dawes shares is “there are such beautiful things we can learn from each day. You can learn from your painful moments in life, and they can help strengthen you, build character, perseverance and drive and teach you about commitment.” 

 

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Author: Karen Nimetz

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