Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu has an absolutely incredible story to tell. And after hearing about it, I immediately recalled a young woman I saw a few months ago at Trader Joe's in a wheelchair who gave out such positive energy I couldn't help but be curious.
I vividly remember the petite Moceanu becoming the youngest U.S. National Champion in gymnastics history at the age of thirteen and then winning a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta as a member of the "Magnificent 7".
I also recall when Moceanu, trying to escape the pressures of her sport and her controlling father, sought legal emancipation from her parents. I remember feeling badly for her but applauding the courage it took to speak out about the psychological and physical abuses young athletes sometimes endure.
As the daughter of two athletic Romanian immigrants, it was inevitable that Dominique would follow in her parents’ footsteps. And given the family DNA, it's not surprising they had other, equally talented, offspring.
In her new book, "Off Balance," Moceanu reveals that she recently reunited with a younger sister she had no previous knowledge of. According to a book excerpt, Moceanu's sister, named Jen Bricker by her adoptive parents, was given up shortly after birth because she was born with genetic condition and had no legs.
Bricker grew up in Illinois 1,000 miles away from her Olympic medal-winning sister. Despite her obvious disability, the young girl was always athletic and became a gymnast without her or her parents knowing that the famous Dominique Moceanu was her sister.
Unbelievably, Moceanu was Bricker's idol growing up. After watching the Atlanta Games, the younger girl felt a connection but didn't know the history until she was 16. It was four years later that Bricker reached out to Moceanu who then confronted her parents and learned the truth.
In her initial letter to Moceanu, Bricker wrote:
"You have been my idol my whole life, and you turned out to be my sister...I realize this must be a lot for you to take in right now. Oh by the way, I have no legs. But people forget that within minutes of meeting me."
Though receiving the letter was a defining moment in Moceanu's life, she said she had previously had a sense that something was off.
"There was a sense of primal loss," Moceanu said on Good Morning America this week. "A few months before Jennifer entered my life, I had this sense that there was something out there, a piece of the puzzle missing."
The sisters now meet regularly and have noticed similarities beyond their love of gymnastics including physical features and even similar handwriting.
"My life will forever be divided into before knowing about Jen and after knowing about Jen," Moceanu told ABC News.
Referring to their mutual passion for gymnastics, Bricker told 20/20
"I don't think it's a coincidence. It's nature versus nurture."
While she may not be as famous as her older sister, Bricker is quite accomplished as well, competing in the Junior Olympics and working now as an acrobat and performer at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.
When I read that Bricker lives in my neighborhood and works nearby, I immediately thought about the young woman I noticed at TJ's and am convinced it was her. The confidence she exuded, her physical presence, the complete lack of awareness of any disability, are etched in my memory.
Bricker, who also performed as part of a Britney Spears concert tour in 2009, discussed her career with Circus Girl Magazine in 2011.
"I hope to motivate & inspire others through performing, working out and my everyday life, I want to show people that anything truly is possible."
I felt bad for Moceanu when her career unraveled and now I think perhaps her sister may have been the luckier of the two growing up. At the end of the day, while Moceanu may have had the medals and fame, Bricker obviously had parents who were supportive and encouraging rather than manipulative and controlling. Glad to know the sisters are now happily reunited and building strong family ties.
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