Dominique Dawes Takes The Lead

By Stephanie Lovieno
Updated: February 22, 2005

East Meadow, NY—With hopes of following in the footsteps of former presidents Dawn Riley and Julie Foudy, Dawes has a lot to look forward to as president of the Foundation. Although the Foundation is one of the most widely known women’s sports organizations in the country, she believes one of the keys to her presidency is spreading the word and mission of the Foundation. “I just hope that I can continue with the mission of the Women’s Sports Foundation number one, and number two, get the visibility and name out there a little more than it’s already been,” Dawes said.

Dawes takes part in the Foundation’s most important initiative, GoGirlGo!, a program designed to reduce health-risk behaviors of girls and encourage their participation in sport and physical activity. GoGirlGo! is specifically aimed at getting 1 million girls physically active over the next three years. Dawes shares her athletic experiences with young girls through speaking engagements all across the country as well.

We hope there will be a day, a time, that women are not only respected on the floor, but in the paper as well.

She also would like to continue to positively impact the lives of young female athletes by encouraging sports participation. “I really just hope to fall in line with all the other wonderful missions that have been on the list, such as touching people’s lives in a positive way, impacting people through sports participation and educating them on the benefits of physical fitness,” she said.

And Dawes can attest to the benefits of sports first hand. At 10 years old, she began training, spending seven hours at the gym each day, with Olympic gold in mind. Today she looks back with gratefulness, crediting her current goal-driven personality to these times. “It’s amazing to think at the age of 10 years old — and this happens for all athletes — how directed you are, how focused you are on your goal at hand,” Dawes said. “I learned from looking back on my career thinking, ‘Well, how was I able to accomplish such great things in the sport of gymnastics?’ And really it had to do with being focused, setting goals, sticking with the goals, achieving the goals and having a game plan.”

Dawes’ game plan for furthering the mission of the Foundation is broad and far-reaching. For example, she sees a great disparity in the coverage of male and female sports, which she believes doesn’t demonstrate the popularity of women’s sports. “I do understand that sometimes they’ll say in USA Today or other periodicals, how there will be 99 percent male-related stories and 1 percent female. You know, I do think that’s unfair because that’s not the truth, and I wish things were reported truthfully; however, you know, we’re working on that, and we hope there will be a day, a time, that women are not only respected on the floor, but in the paper as well.”

In addition to dedicating herself to the cause of equity in women’s sports, Dawes will continue her work on behalf of girls’ wellness as the spokesperson for the Uniquely Me Girl Scouts/Unilever self-esteem program, which addresses the nationwide problem of low self-esteem among preteen and teenage girls. “I sympathize with individuals that deal with self-esteem issues because throughout my career, even though it was a very good career, I have to say there were times where I didn’t believe in myself,” she said. Dawes, who has a communication degree from the University of Maryland, travels across the country and speaks of her experiences as a young athlete and distributes curriculums the girls can follow with their other Girl Scout programs.

Dawes won three Olympic medals from 1992 to 2000.

When she isn’t advocating and educating the country about girls’ and women’s sports, Dawes spends time coaching a new generation of gymnasts at the gym where she trained growing up. “I didn’t think that truly I would enjoy coaching as much as I do,” she said. “I really didn’t think that I could be as impactful as I am, but I just enjoy doing it. So I continue having passion in knowing that I can inspire and more importantly, empower the youth of America.”

And even though sports can be extremely competitive, Dawes tries to stress the fun and entertainment they can provide to young athletes. “Really when I go out and I meet other athletes or just people in general, I just try to have that loving, jovial, fun nature about me, and not take life so seriously and realize that, you know what, just be a happy individual. People are going to love you, no matter if you trip and fall or mess up during your speeches or you set goals and don’t accomplish them…who cares?”

Even though the fun-loving Dawes hasn’t competed in nearly four years, she still feels a fulfillment from the fans whose lives may have been affected by her participation in gymnastics. “You know, it’s [most fulfilling moment] each and every time when someone young, old, black, white, Asian, comes up to me and just lets me know that I was able to inspire or empower them,” Dawes said.

“So each and every time that happens either when I’m coaching or when walking down the street or when I’m doing work with different foundations, it’s really encouraging for me and enlightening for me and makes me realize this is good that I’m still going around and sharing my story or getting with different organizations that do positive things because I’m still able to inspire and make an impact, even though I’m not doing my craft anymore.”

Dawes’ positive philosophy about sports and life has allowed her to fully enjoy the benefits of sports and spread this optimism to younger fans. Although she’s won many awards and honors, Dawes’ current role off the mat as a mentor and educator has been just as important — maybe even more important — than her role in her days of competing.