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Women’s History Month: Interview with Dominique Dawes

This March as we celebrate Women’s History Month we would like to celebrate our history at the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) and the incredible and powerful women who have served as our Presidents and guided us.

Throughout the month we will feature a few of these wonderful women here on our S.H.E. Network, as well as all former WSF President’s on our Instagram.

We celebrate Dominique Dawes:
A four-time Olympic gold medalist, a mentor, a motivational speaker and now a mom to two girls, Dominique Dawes continues to blaze a bright trail. When she was six, Dominique became involved in the sport of gymnastics which would propel her to the Olympic stage and onward to become a member of U.S.A. Olympic Hall of Fame, U.S.A. Gymnastics Hall of Fame and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Dominique served as President of the Women’s Sports Foundation in 2005 and 2006 with a strong sense of advocacy and a commitment to advancing the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity, which she continues to promote today. Hear from Dominique on her beginnings with the WSF, what is most important in her life these days and why she is still a promoter of equality for all girls.

Question: The Women’s Sports Foundation is dedicated to creating leaders by ensuring all girls access to sports and we know sports have had a big impact on your life and mean a great deal to you. Why is it important to you that young girls participate in sports?

Answer: There are many different reasons but the main one is just the intangible qualities that will help girls later on in life in whatever they choose to do, either their pursuits in college or in the boardroom or even at home. Qualities, such as hard work, goal setting, working well as a team, learning to persevere through difficult situations and also learning how to lose in life because you are not going to win every time, and learning how to get back up after that fall and to be coachable. I think all of those wonderful intangibles will help young girls succeed in college, in their academics, in the boardroom, in corporate America, and starting their own businesses and also as being a mom. I would have never thought it would have helped me out with motherhood but being home now with a toddler and an infant, I recognize that all of those qualities that I learned from my eighteen years in the sport of gymnastics have really helped me in being the best mom that I can be.

Question: With such a busy schedule and making sure you spend time with your family, how do you find time for your personal health and stay physically fit?

Answer: You know, I will say that it’s very difficult. I thought, oh, being a four-time Olympian and someone that does a good job of talking the talk of being physically active, I thought of course I’m going to be able to walk the walk, as I have done in the past. It’s a challenge because as a mom and a wife, you really do tend to put others first. I focus on my girls. I’m always tired because we don’t get consecutive hours of sleep having little ones. When you are low on energy and low on sleep it’s difficult. I would say that my physical activity today is really just keeping up with an overactive toddler. I have a two year old who loves to run, who loves to jump, who loves to skip and my workout today consists of playing with her. Now it’s not to the same intensity level that it used to be or what I would like it to be, but right now it’s just playing with my toddler.

Every now and then I’ll break away and get five or ten minutes of “mommy time” where I can work out but it’s definitely a sacrifice I’m making right now. I am constantly telling myself that if I’m not getting as much physical activity as I would like then I really have to make sure I’m making smarter decisions when it comes to my nutrition. So, I drink a little bit more water, or I make sure I forgo French fries during the drive-thru, or instead of going for fried foods choosing and opting for grilled, or using olive oil instead of say, canola oil. Also I’m more cognoscente of what I’m putting in my body these days just because of my limited time and energy to work out.

Question: As a former elite gymnast and Olympian, what are three things sports helped teach you that have helped you throughout your career?

Answer: Well it’s taught me 3,000 things really! But, I would have to say, going back to many of my speeches these days; it has taught me about passion, plan and people. It’s important in life to pursue things that you have a passion about. Right now my passion is, and I know it will always be, my husband and my kids. My passion has also been empowering and educating people and motivational talks and doing things of that nature. Sports taught me [passion] because being in the sport of gymnastics for nearly eighteen years there’s no way I would have been able to be committed to that sport if I didn’t truly love what I was doing.

When it comes to creating a plan, it’s always important to have goals and to have an idea of what you want to strive for each and every day. It gives you more direction, more purpose and it really helps you set a track for your day. It’s just easier to have an idea of the purpose, a plan and a direction for where you are going and that’s how my Olympic pursuits were.

Then last but not least, people. Throughout my career there are a number of people that I can truly give gratitude to for their sacrifice of time and commitment and effort to ensure that I was able to achieve my goals because I definitely did not do it alone. My coaches were there for me each step of the way, certain family members, friends and teammates, made it all possible and that’s important for me even today. I make sure that I surround myself with loving, positive people.

Question: Do you have a favorite memory with the Women’s Sports Foundation?

Answer: I remember being involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation as a young teenager. I remember Yolanda Jackson (former Assoc. Director of Athlete Services) being such a mother figure to a lot of us young athletes to get us involved with the Foundation and to really educate us on what Title IX was about because it was not something that was taught to us in school, and it definitely was not something that was discussed in the gymnastics gym. So, it was wonderful to be educated by someone who wanted us to know ‘hey, this is the reason why you have these opportunities to play and these opportunities to earn a full scholarship to college someday.’ Getting involved in the Foundation really set my life on a track that wasn’t just focused on me and my Olympic goals anymore but really broadened my purpose and helped me recognize ‘hey, I can do work and help others along the way.’ That was a life changing moment.

Question: What about the Foundation’s work particularly resonates with you?

Answer: I think the greatest work that the Women’s Sports Foundation does is really educate young girls on what Title IX is about and the history of Title IX. As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t something that I learned in school or during my athletic experiences. Helping young girls know our history is helpful and recognizing how it was able to open doors for them and how they’ve benefited from those that have paved the way. I think that’s one of the keys to Title IX because young kids today, and even when I was a young athlete, you just assumed everyone had the opportunity to play but they didn’t. So the biggest thing is the education to the younger generations so that they will want to join in the fight to ensure that young girls do have that opportunity to play.

Question: You have accomplished a great deal so far in your life. Looking ahead, what legacy do you hope to leave behind for the next generation?

Answer: What’s important to me today is my being a wife and being a mother. I think the most important things in life have to do with your family, your friends and with your relationship with God. Sports are obviously a blessing. It’s an icing on the cake, especially if you’re good at it and you can use it to springboard you to another platform in your career, like I mentioned before with college or with the corporate world or starting a business or something along those lines. But, at the end of the day, the important things in life have to do with relationships.

The best way to show young people or yourself or anyone what is important is with your time. That’s the best way to show that you love and you care for the person. Being forty this year has helped put things into perspective. I look at life now thinking that when I’m on my deathbed the things I’m going to think about are: I’m going to think about my husband, I’m going to think about my daughters, and hopefully if I have any more children. Then I’m going to think about those good friends of mine and those family members of mine with whom I have built such amazing memories with. So it’s all about those relationships. I’m not going to think ‘oh I wish I won another Olympic gold medal’ or ‘oh I wish I did another speech.’ I’m going to wish that I spent more time with those that mattered the most in my life. I hope that’s the legacy that I send to the next generation, to spend time with those that matter.

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