The True Story of the Handicapped Sister This Olympic Gymnast Never Knew
With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil starting soon, it’s fun to look back at past Olympics and wonder where star athletes are now. For those of us who grew up in the nineties – or for any big fan of the Olympics or gymnastics – probably nothing sticks out as much as the 1996 games in Atlanta, Georgia, and the American women’s gymnastics team who won team gold for the United States for the very first time. Every member of the “Magnificent Seven” was an absolute star, but perhaps nobody quite captured our hearts – or helped fuel the dreams of young wannabe gymnasts everywhere – like youngest team member Dominique Moceanu. Now, twenty years later, OWN’s “Where Are They Now?” is catching up with the athlete, and her story of her life since 1996 is like nothing we ever could have anticipated. For starters— she discovered she had a sister she never knew.
Fans of Moceanu and followers of her career know that she was emancipated from her parents in 1998 at age seventeen, following a near-abusive life of intense training conditions and mismanagement of the money she had earned. Though Moceanu eventually reconciled with her parents, their complicated relationship hit another wrinkle when she discovered that, when she was six years old, they had not only secretly had another child, but also given that baby up for adoption— because she was born without legs.
“I could not believe that I didn’t know,” says Moceanu. “How do I not know when I was six years old? People ask me all the time, ‘Did you not see your Mom pregnant?’ I said, ‘In our family, secrets, that was part of it! Nobody said anything.” When she confronted her parents with her discovery, she was able to confirm the truth. Best of all, she was able to build a relationship with her sister, Jen.
Jen had a wonderful life with her adoptive family, and was actually a fan of Dominique long before either knew they were related. Now, Jen is an acclaimed power tumbler, aerialist and acrobat in her own right, and the two are building a wonderful relationship. “I’m proud to call her my sister,” Moceanu says. “She’s living her dream and I think it’s just going to get better.”
As for her parents? Moceanu was able to fully reconcile with her father before he passed in 2008. When she speaks of them now, she speaks of forgiveness. “I believe my childhood was very unique and very different,” she says. “But I’m thankful now as a parent I can kind of relive it with my children and give them everything I always desired as a child.” Her resolve and her grace are truly remarkable. She may be a different kind of inspiration now than she was as part of the “Magnificent Seven,” but we would argue that these emotional victories are just as gold-medal-worthy. Watch her full interview with OWN, then go hug your family.