I specifically remember being nine years old sitting in front of the TV watching the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. USA Women’s Gymnastics team won gold! Little Dominque Moceanu captivated me. I think part of this was because like me, she was really small, but boy was she fierce, determined, talented, successful. She won those medals with such grace. I bought a poster of her at the Scholastic book fair. I wasn’t even a big Barbie fan but I begged for the one that had bendy arms and legs in her Olympic leotard to perform all kinds of routines. I actually played with it. I got the kid version biographies. Oh, my obsessive tendencies are nothing new, they were alive and well before the age of ten. I vaguely remember commercials for the Lifetime movie, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes (though I didn’t watch it.) Despite all the coverage, the short interviews, the magazines and kid version books and photo mags I don’t think these materials gave us a real peek into the gymnasts lives.
I saw Dominque Moceanu’s interview on CNN when her memoir was first released, so I was aware that there were details of the rocky road she endured to get to the Olympics not only in the gym with her tough coaches, but a really tumultuous relationship with her father too. When I tweeted about watching the interview, she started following me on Twitter which I found pretty exciting! Although, I ordered Off Balance online not too long after its release, I didn’t end up reading it until last weekend. It only took me about two days because I was so immersed in her story. While some of it is really sad when you think about her as a young girl, not really experiencing a true childhood, or some of the painful events she endured (from verbal and physical abuse to the grueling training and lack of encouragement,) that made her feel isolated and unworthy – there are also happy points to her story. Eventually she finds love, many relationships in her life are repaired, she even formed a relationship with a relative she didn’t know about until 2007! We get glimpses of some of the reality behind what seemed like a fairytale surrounding the victory during the Olympics, or what might have seemed like a sweet bond between coach and an athlete. Readers can see how such a dark past impacts her future, from an array of different decisions in her teenage years, to a determination to have healthy, nurturing relationships with her own children.
If you’ve ever been curious about this amazing athlete and awesome person, and want a more in-depth look into her life, where better to find the story than Dominque herself? That’s one part I really enjoyed, that she got to have her own voice after all those years of strictly obeying others. She got to share her own story, her way. So, if you’ve been wondering if you should read this, I say yes! Have a little down time around Thanksgiving this week? Pick up a copy. I’ve been careful not to share too many details because I want it to all be new to you when you read it. Enjoy!