June 13th, 2012
07:24 AM ET

Gymnast reveals 'dark side' to Olympic journey

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  In her memoir, "Off Balance," in stores this week, 1996 Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu opens up about her life outside the spotlight. 

This is an exciting time for me – with the release of my new memoir, "Off Balance," I’m finally able to reveal the entire story of my life.

Most people may know me as the youngest U.S. gymnast in history to win an Olympic gold medal (at the age of 14) and as a member of the historic 1996 US Women’s Olympic Gymnastic team (also known as “the Magnificent Seven”), the first and only American women’s team to take gold at the Olympics. 

Of course, to achieve the pinnacle of any field, a lot of sacrifices have to be made. I had my share of sacrifices both in and out of the gym. My relationships with the two primary male figures in my early life - my stubborn and volcanic father and my internationally known coach, Bela Karolyi (who coached me during the Olympics) have been written about by various media outlets but never from my perspective.

When you are in the media spotlight as a 14 year old, most think you are having the time of your life - meeting celebrities, going on post-Olympic tours, making magazine covers, Wheaties boxes and photo shoots. For me, however, there was also an untold, dark side.

Despite being a dedicated, hard working, elite athlete earning national and international medals and acclaim, I nonetheless suffered from a warped body image, unhealthy eating patterns and low self-esteem.  Those around me who should’ve been supporting me and boosting my confidence when I needed it most were doing exactly the opposite.

One of the many lessons I’ve learned from my life and career and the hardships I’ve overcome is that my purpose cannot be defined by the color of a medal around my neck. I realized years after I achieved success that what really matters in life is that I recognize my worth as person, not just as a gymnast. 

For me, gaining control of my life, becoming a mother and having a healthy home life has helped me achieve the balance I craved as a child. 

I’ve also learned to be open to new challenges and ready for the unexpected. Four years ago, I was happily married, completing my education and about to give birth to my firstborn when I received the biggest bombshell imaginable. I discovered I had a younger sister, born without legs and given up for adoption at birth by my parents. 

Fortunately, because I had reached a good place in my life, I was able to see the beauty in welcoming this wonderful person into my family.  Getting to know my “new” sister has been a tremendous blessing and one of the best experiences of my life.

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