Women That Inspire: Olympic Medalist Dominique Dawes

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By Courtney Kopec

Earning the title of one of the greatest American female athletes of all time takes an extreme amount of focus, determination and, of course, talent. Dominique Dawes not only posses all three of these qualities, she dominates them. As the only American gymnast to have won team medals in three Olympic games (1992, 1996 and 2000), including an Olympic gold medal and three Olympic bronzes, Dawes doesn’t mess around when it comes to overachieving. During the course of her 18-year career as a professional gymnast, Dawes raised the bar of excellence high, managing to not only reach it, but also catapult herself over it into super-star status. Along with an Olympic gold and three Olympic bronzes, Dawes earned three World Championships silver medals, one bronze world medal, seventeen gold National Championships medals and two silver nationals medals – equaling 27 medals in all!

Some might think that after putting in so many years of extraordinarily hard work, the now retired gymnast would prefer to spend the remainder of her years relaxing on a beach with a book and a pina colada. However, relaxing is not a word in Dawes’s vocabulary. A power-house of energy, perseverance, and motivation, Miss Dawes is simply following the path she believes God is leading her on: Continuing to raise the bar on both her personal expectations and for those in need of a little extra encouragement and self-esteem (and who couldn’t use a bit more of that?). Her journey as a gymnast instilled mottos and principles that have helped her to reach so many goals and overcome numerous obstacles. Now, as a motivational speaker, spokeswoman and co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Dawes, 35, spends her days teaching the principles she learned to others.

An inspiring new book about her life and career, written by author Kim Washburn and entitled, Heart of a Champion – The Dominique Dawes Story, is also about to be released. In it, Dominique gives her testimony that even an Olympic Champion can feel insecure at times. She attributes much of her success to her love of Christ.  “I really think that God placed me in the gymnastics arena because that was my passion,” she states in the book, “but my purpose is to inspire people with that passion.”

It takes a real athlete to accomplish was Dawes did in the world of professional gymnastics, but it takes the heart of a champion to accomplish what she is doing today in the world of mankind.

HOPE: At the age of eleven you came up with a personal motto called D-3: Determination, Dedication and Desire. How did this motto help you to achieve your goals and how hard was it to stick to?

DD: I was taught at a young age that you have to get your mind right and your body will follow. My coach (Kelli Hill) would always talk about how the mind controls the body and she would say, “If you think well you are going to do well.” I created this motto really to make sure that my mind was focused on something that was going to uplift me and empower me. It was inevitable that I was going to fall off the balance beam. It was inevitable that I was going to feel aches and pains. It was inevitable that I was not going to be standing at the top of the podium after every single competition; and so I wanted to make sure that I was equipped to be focused on things that would help me achieve my goals and not deter me from reaching my full potential. It was difficult to always keep my mind focused on D-3 as a young athlete. I of course felt fearful or doubtful or just down on myself at times, but the personal motto D-3 was something that stuck in my mind so that when I started doubting I would quickly go to D-3 to get my mind right and then eventually my body would follow.

HOPE: What is one of the greatest lessons you learned over the course of your Olympic career?

DD: One that always stands out with me in my 18-year career would be something that my coach would speak about and it was that 70 percent effort [equals] 70 percent outcome — what you give in life is what you’re going to get out of life. That has really helped me understand the importance of having a strong work ethic. I want to accomplish my full potential, but I’ve got to give it a full 110 percent and settling for 70 or 80 percent effort is not going to help me reach my full potential. I learned that lesson at the 1996 Olympic games, making the mistake in the All-around competition (when she was  favored to win). That was not a part of my plan, but when I look back over my career I realize that that particular trick that I made a mistake on, that I only gave 70 percent effort. A lot of people like to tell me, ‘Oh, that was the worst possible time for you to make that mistake.’ I look at things differently today as a mature adult. It actually was the best possible time for me to make that mistake because I learned the lesson that, again, if you only give 70 percent effort, you will only get 70 percent outcome.

HOPE: Now that you are no longer training 40 hours a week, what activities do you do to stay fit?

DD: I love Pilates, yoga and jogging. Just staying active is my biggest thing. I’ve gone through periods of times where I wasn’t working out and not only did I start looking differently, but I was feeling differently, so I know I have to hit the gym or do some type of physical activity at least five days a week.

HOPE: You had such a strict regimen of diet and exercise as a professional athlete. What is your nutrition like these days?

DD: I really don’t deprive myself anything. I think it’s important to know that moderation is key. Will I have fried chicken? Yes, but not multiple times a week. I have a great deal of fruits and vegetables and I will choose whole grains over white rice or white flour bread.

HOPE: As a motivational speaker, part of your work is to inspire people. If you had the ability to make just one rule of thumb stick in inspiring self-esteem, what would it be?

DD: It’s important for people to perceive themselves as Jesus perceives them. I think a lot of times we compare ourselves to other people or we will critique ourselves or we will fully focus on imperfections and I think that the way we build self-esteem is for people to love themselves as Jesus loves them. To not see imperfections but that we are all God’s children and He doesn’t make mistakes and if we recognize that, we will recognize the good and greatness that we are, and recognize the impact that we can make and leave on the world behind us.

HOPE: How much of a role has your faith played in healing you of self-esteem issues?

DD: It’s been huge! It wasn’t until I became a young adult that I started looking at myself and seeing myself as Jesus perceives me and only then was I truly able to combat what the world was telling me to think and to combat my fears and my doubts. I am not going to say that at 35 I don’t still have insecurities, I don’t have doubts, I don’t have fears. I would be lying if I said that there aren’t negative thoughts that come into my mind. But I know to focus on what He (Jesus) says about me and what He says about my ability, and the bigger impact that I could make.

HOPE: In 2002 you became the first spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of America’s, “Uniquely Me” self-esteem campaign where you reach out to girls age 8 10 14 to help empower and teach about the importance of a healthy self-image. Though you have been a positive teacher to countless numbers of young girls, what are some things these young girls have taught you?

DD: Hearing the stories of these young girls and what they have persevered through is always inspiring. I always get an opportunity to hear young girls – or boys, depending on the organization – speak to me about their dreams, their accomplishments or their struggles. I constantly have been inspired by young people and in awe of their strength, and it always makes me want to do more when it comes to empowering young people to love themselves, empowering young people to shut out the negativity of the world and stay focused on whatever their dreams and their goals are for themselves.

HOPE: Why do you believe hope is important? What do you place your hope in the most?

I think it’s important for people to have hope because without it life would feel quite empty and quite dark. Just being a believer, my hope is that I will fulfill all that Christ envisions me to fulfill. I think I have been blessed with a number of talents and I think it’s important for me to use those talents to impact others in a positive way and so I always pray that I am not wasting my talents, my time.

Courtney is a health and wellness coach who specializes in food therapy and body positivity. More information on her, including her blog and recipes can be found at her website: www.cakeandkalelifestyle.com

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