Parents are supposed to protect their children from harm, however, the cold, hard truth is that many parents end up exploiting and abusing their own child so they can live out unrealized goals and dreams.
In the early 1980s, one girl endured years of abuse at the hands of her immigrant father, who was forcing her to live out his version of the ‘American Dream’. However, after coming clean about the years of suffering, the Olympic gymnast discovered her father had an even darker secret…
On September 30, 1981, Dominique Moceanu was born in Hollywood, California. Her father Dumitru and her mother Camelia were both immigrants who had moved to the United States from Romania to escape communism in their home country.
The American Dream
The couple hoped to achieve the American Dream, however, Dumitru struggled to support his family. For the first few years after Dominique was born, Dumitru moved the family around the country from California to Illinois, and later to Florida in search of better opportunities…
Both Dumitru and Camelia had been gymnasts back in Romania but failed to accomplish their goals in the sport. So when Dominique was born, they had dreams that their daughter would accomplish what they could not. The couple didn’t waste any time beginning Dominique’s training.
When Dominique was just a toddler, her parents began testing her strength by seeing how long she could hang from a clothesline. When the family was still living in Illinois, Dominique started gymnastic classes when she was just 3 years old…
When the family moved to Florida, Dominique’s training continued at LaFleur’s Gymnastics Club. Around that time, Dominique also started school. Because of her Romanian background, Dominique struggled to fit in with her classmates and was lonely while at school.
A Gifted Student
However, when Dominique was at the gym training, she was a completely different girl. While training, Dominique was confident and competitive. That combination, along with her natural gifted ability, quickly made her stand out amongst her peers…
By the time Dominique was just 9 years old, she had perfected moves so difficult that elite gymnasts across the world couldn’t even land at the time. “I wanna win lots of medals and be on TV a lot,” Dominique said in a local news interview when she was just a child.
The Family Moves To Texas
Dumitru saw the potential his daughter had at such a young age. When Dominique was 10 years old, Dumitru moved the family from Florida to Houston, Texas, so that Dominique could start training with Marta and Béla Károlyi, renowned gymnastic coaches and fellow Romanian immigrants…
Training With The Best
After Dominique tried out, Béla Károlyi, who had trained some of the best Olympic gymnasts, accepted her into his program. Dominique became the youngest member of the U.S. junior national team, and thrived under the coaching of Alexander Alexandrov, an esteemed Russian gymnastics coach who worked for the Károlyis.
An Inspiring Coach
Alexander was patient and experienced. He inspired Dominique to push the limits of her abilities. Thanks to Alexander, Dominique won the Senior National Championship in 1995. At just 13 years old, she was the youngest gymnast in history to do so…
End Of An Era
However, the Károlyis didn’t want Alexander to be credited with Dominique’s success, so they fired him just before the competition. For Dominique, Alexander’s dismissal as her coach marked the end of the good years of her training.
A Toxic Environment
With Alexander gone, the Károlyis took over Dominique’s training as she prepared for the Olympics. However, the Károlyis were nothing like Alexander. Rather than inspiring Dominique, Béla made harsh commands, monitored her every move, and accused her of gaining weight in front of everyone. Dominique began struggling physically and mentally to keep up with their demands…
Praying For Strength
“I would pray before I walked to the gym every single day,” Dominique said. “I didn’t want to be yelled at or belittled for not trying my very best, or humiliated because in the coach’s mind I had gained weight when really I didn’t, they were playing mind games with me—I had to have the strength to get through that mentally and not have a breakdown, but also keep my body safe physically.”
The Dark Reality
In public, the Károlyis acted loving and nurturing, but behind closed doors, they were emotionally and verbally abusive. Dominique was terrified of her coaches and was punished for slacking off when she finally complaining about being in pain when they overworked her…
The Magnificent Seven
By the time the Olympics came, Dominique had a stress fracture in her left leg and she had no choice but to compete even though she was in agonizing pain. Because of the neglected injury, Dominique made a few mistakes, however, her performances were still strong enough to help the ‘Magnificent Seven’, of which she was the youngest member, win for the first time in Olympic history.
Fighting For Control
Dominique continued her training, yet as she got older, she started to wonder where all the hard-earned money she made throughout her career had gone. Dumitru had been in control of her earnings the entire time and refused to tell her anything. So when Dominique was 17 years old, she sued her parents to be emancipated…
During the trial, Dominique revealed her father had ruled every aspect of her life and was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive. The court granted the emancipation, and Dominique discovered her father had spent almost all of her $1 million earnings building a gymnastics training center. Dominique took over control of the gym, but it ended up closing because of all the drama surrounding the family.
Love Conquers All
Dominique stopped training and tried to forget the trauma she endured with drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t until she ran into Mike Canales, a former gymnast who was now studying to become a surgeon, that her life started to turn around. They got married in 2005, settled down in Cleveland, and started a family…
A Dark Secret
Dominique eventually forgave her father before he died from cancer, however, while pregnant she discovered how ruthless her parents had truly been. A ‘fan’ named Jennifer sent her a package in the mail that revealed she was Dominique’s secret sister who had been given up for adoption because she was born without legs. “I was overcome with emotion,” Dominique said. “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.”
“Those few days together were magical. We were able to open up and share our feelings, cry, laugh and bond in new ways,” Dominique said about the moment she met Jennifer, an acrobat, aerialist, and motivational speaker who had always felt a connection to Dominique before she even knew they were related. “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 we believe that God was leaving clues so she could find (me) one day.”