Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M.
Writing for Catholic News Agency, Kate Olivera recently chronicled the conversion story of three-time Olympian and Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes, who was part of the 1996 squad that won the first U.S. women’s team gold in gymnastics. Dawes recalled a moment of doubt at the start of the games, when she became overwhelmed by the pressure just before appearing before billions of people watching around the world. It was at that moment that her team captain, Amanda Borden, knelt beside her and together they prayed, asking God to watch over them.
Recalling that moment, Dawes said, “It was good to have that reminder that I’m not alone . . . because He is the one that is going to strengthen me, and He is the one that’s going to strengthen us . . . I remember when I stood up after that prayer with Amanda, I felt free. I felt light . . . And we went out, marched out together and we all made history.”
Dawes credits her mother’s Baptist faith for instilling a strong bond with God early on. She said, “The seed that my mom planted in me really took. She sowed a seed that has been one that has kept me grounded, (and) has given me this level of discernment, as I think the Spirit has protected me quite a bit in my life and has steered me away from some people and situations that maybe weren’t the healthiest for me.”
Dawes eventually felt called to the Catholic faith and to a special connection to the Virgin Mary, saying, “I always felt as a young person, while my mom did the best that she could, and my coach who many times was labeled as a mother figure, neither of them were truly happy people . . . I felt as if I wanted to find . . . a mother who maybe was happy. Those loving arms that you can run into and just feel that sense of comfort and love, which I never felt as a child.”
Dawes’ grandmother was full Piscataway Conoy Native American and was also Catholic and named after Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Dawes says, “I knew very little about this until I became an adult. And I was like, ‘Oh, and that’s my grandmother I felt calling me into this Church.”
Today Dawes is married to a Catholic school teacher and they have four children together. She also runs a gymnastics academy where she fosters a positive culture. Dawes says, “The people that I have on board, they really are so positive. I love it…It amazes me, because of the environment that I came from that was so critical. Like, nothing you could do in the sport of gymnastics was right. Nothing was ever good enough . . . I told my husband, when I opened these doors, I said, ‘I really want this big sign that says ‘You are Enough.’”
Dominique Dawes’ story is inspiring on many levels. Her combination of fortitude and faith led her to become an Olympic champion. But her faith also led her to realize that, as much as she had accomplished in her own life, she wanted to share her passion for gymnastics in a very different way than is common in competitive sports. And this is how God leads great people to create a better world for those who follow in their footsteps. Discovering a relationship with Christ can empower us to think outside the box and challenge the status quo so we leave a better, more loving culture, where all people can find their talents and thrive.
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