All the excitement surrounding the gold-medal winning 2012 U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team has brought attention back to the first team to achieve that feat—the Magnificent Seven, who won gold at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Dominique Moceanu was 14 at those games, the youngest and smallest girl on a team of pixies.
But behind the cameras, she struggled to manage the expectations of her demanding, stubborn, and often punishing father and coaches, the pressures of elite competition, the threat of injury, and the desire to take control of her own life.
In her memoir Off Balance (Touchstone, 2012), Moceanu offers a glimpse into her surprising life so far—from realizing the dream of Olympic gold and the hardships that made that dream possible, to emancipating from her parents in a public trial at 17, to discovering a long-lost sister given up for adoption, born without legs and yet living a parallel life in competitive gymnastics. She spoke with Christianity Today about how she has dealt with all that life has thrown at her, and how her faith has played a role in it all.
At 23 you found out you had a third sister, Jennifer, whom your parents had given up for adoption when you were 6, because she was born without legs and they knew they could not afford to care for her. What has that relationship meant to you?
My sisters and I, we all say that this happened for a reason. All the dots were connected from above, because all of this is too unbelievable to have it be just coincidence. Jennifer is very faithful, and Christina is faithful, and we all believe that God was leaving clues so she could find us one day. But she needed to be in the family she was placed in so she could blossom and grow and God did that for her.
It was supposed to be a closed adoption, but somehow a clerical error left all my family's information as a clue. Had that not been there, I don't know that she would have had an easy time finding me. It wasn't easy, but with that information it certainly made things a lot easier because she wouldn't have known where to start.
We believe it was all meant to be and we were supposed to meet each other. These things you only see in the movies! But there was someone connecting the dots on a much bigger scale.
How did you feel when you first heard about your sister? She sent you a letter introducing herself—what was going through your mind as you were reading that?
A lot of emotions! I was nine months pregnant; I was in the midst of five finals that week. I had just taken one and I took a break to go to the post office to pick up this letter. I was sitting in my car and I didn't recognize the name on the package. I opened it and there were ten photos; I looked through them and in my hand was the spitting image of my younger sister Christina. In the other hand I had the adoption papers that had my parents' signatures on them, and I knew them so well, I knew it had to be true. It wasn't some make-believe story or a fan trying to get closer to me somehow. I knew it was the truth. I didn't for one second doubt it. Everything she had put in there was overwhelming evidence; there was no question in my mind.
When I saw that, my immediate reaction was, I've got to ask my parents! I was overcome with emotion—I was enraged, I was so upset that I had been lied to by omission for 20 years and for all that time I didn't know and we were missing out on somebody's life. My father was very domineering and he made all the decisions, and I think he didn't know what to do. They delivered Jennifer at a charity hospital because they didn't have any insurance. Back in Romania, Jennifer would have ended up in a Romanian orphanage, but in America she had so much better luck with finding a family who could take her in.