A local Olympian is passing on her skills and hoping to create a safe and healthy place for young gymnasts as she opens her new academy in Montgomery County, Maryland.
“When the unhealthy culture in the sport of gymnastics really became exposed during the Rio Olympic games, that’s when I really opened my eyes,” said Dominique Dawes, a native of Silver Spring and a member of the gold medal-winning 1996 Olympic gymnastics team.
Dawes was a key member of the “Magnificent Seven” at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. She competed for Team USA three times.
Dawes, who earned the nickname “Awesome Dawesome,” said she wanted to open a facility that would focus more on the positive aspects of gymnastics.
In 2016, just ahead of the Summer Olympics in Rio, news broke that team doctor Larry Nassar had been accused of sexually abusing girls and young women in his role with USA Gymnastics for over a decade. He was also a faculty member at the Michigan State University. In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty.
“It can be very unhealthy but it has to do with the people that are creating the culture,” Dawes said, referring to the ultra-competitive atmosphere some gymnastics coaches promote. She also mentioned making the sport more positive for those who don’t fit the traditional body image of a gymnast.
The Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy opened in early July with two large spaces on Gateway Center Drive in Clarksburg, Maryland, offering gymnastics and ninja warrior-style classes with obstacles, ropes and rock climbing.
She’s hoping to pass on what she says is a healthy attitude towards coaching young gymnasts.
“I put my kids in mommy-and-me classes for years and I loved it, but it always brought back the fear, the anxiety, the unhealthy culture that the sport really is about,” said Dawes, who has four children. “I really don’t want my children to go through what I went through.”
Her gym offers gymnastic classes for kids ages nine months and up, and ninja warrior training for ages 4 through adult.
Dawes said opening a business during the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging, but rewarding. She said they are taking COVID-19 precautions seriously, adhering to social distancing rules and keeping the gym clean between classes.
Her staff is wearing masks and face and shields as well. She currently has about 12 staff members.
She hopes to expand her gym and open additional locations in Montgomery County and possibly across the Virginia and D.C. area.
“To open my doors really has been a dream come true,” Dawes said.