December 22, 2014

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Olympic gymnastics champion Dominique Moceanu to tell her story, meet fans at World Gym reopening

Dominique Moceanu competes on the uneven bars during the 1996 Summer Olympics. Moceanu was a key member of a team dubbed the Magnificent Seven that went on to win the first gold medal in U.S. women's gymnastic history. A Houston, Texas, native, Moceanu is now 31 and lives in Cleveland.

Dominique Moceanu competes on the uneven bars during the 1996 Summer Olympics. Moceanu was a key member of a team dubbed the Magnificent Seven that went on to win the first gold medal in U.S. women’s gymnastic history. A Houston, Texas, native, Moceanu is now 31 and lives in Cleveland.

It’s not easy to forget diminutive gymnast Dominique Moceanu, who bounced around the mats in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics and won the world over with a heart — and medal — of gold.

The quiet 14-year-old was a member of the “Magnificent Seven” — the first United States women’s team to capture Olympic gold. She will be visiting Lorain County on Saturday when she helps World Gym in Sheffield celebrate its grand reopening.

“I’ll ultimately be there to support the grand opening,” Moceanu, now 31, said during a phone interview with The Chronicle-Telegram.

“I’ll be a guest and cut the ribbon, and (be there to) support physical fitness and support World Gym.”

The event begins at 9 a.m. Moceanu will be joined by former Elyria Catholic, Ohio State and NFL star Matt Wilhelm and Sheffield Mayor John D. Hunter in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9:30.

Moceanu was a world-class gymnast by the time she was 10, going on to become the youngest (13) female to win the senior all-around title at the U.S. Nationals in 1995. She helped the Americans grab the bronze medal at the 1995 World Championships in Sabae, Japan, and she took the individual silver in the balance beam.

Moceanu’s near-flawless performances on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor routine helped the U.S. women’s team — which included Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes and Kerry Strug — win gold for the first time at the 1996 Olympics.

Moceanu’s off-the-mat battles further increased her fame. She sued her parents for emancipation when she was 17, later reconciling with them, and she has claimed longtime coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi ran a training regiment filled with psychological and physical abuse.

It’s been several years since Moceanu has competed in gymnastics, but she has since become an ambassador for her sport and the rest of the athletics world.

“Gymnastics was such a huge part of my life,” she said. “It would only be natural for me to continue to stay actively involved in the fitness community and the gymnastics community.”

Moceanu lives in Cleveland with her husband, Dr. Michael Canales, a former Ohio State gymnast, and their two children, Carmen, 5, and Vincent, 4. She has traveled the world for competitions and lived all over the United States while training, but Moceanu said Northeast Ohio has become one of her favorite places.

“We love Cleveland and we love raising our family in Cleveland,” she said. “I grew up in Houston, Texas, so the weather was quite a bit different.

“I love that my children are growing up here and getting to see the beautiful parts of Cleveland. They love the botanical gardens, they love the Cleveland Children’s Museum, they love the Cleveland Zoo … we take advantage of all the great opportunities we have here and the great facilities and parks — we love the parks — anywhere there’s a great park, we try and go find it.”

Not that Moceanu has a lot of free time on her hands.

Beside keeping up with her two toddlers, she helps train young gymnasts locally and has been on a whirlwind tour promoting her memoir — “Off Balance” — which was released last year and again recently in paperback.

“I try to keep everything balanced and I’m not gone for more than two days from my children unless absolutely necessary,” Moceanu said. “I just prioritize really well. I try to balance things the best way that I can and make sure my priorities are in line. My children are always first, and my family and then everything else always comes after.”

She also tries to fit in appearances like the one she’ll make at World Gym on Saturday. Even that event seems to be action-packed.

“I’ll be doing a brief talk about what I’m doing now, and talking about how important it is to be active and physically fit,” Moceanu said. “I’m also going to answer questions for the crowd, (do) an autograph signing and I’ll have my memoir as well, so I’ll be able to talk about my book. They’ll be available for purchase as well.”

The memoir details her roller coaster gymnastics career, and mixes in the story of how she learned of a long-lost sister, Jennifer Bricker, who was born without legs and had been given up for adoption when Moceanu was 6 years old. The pair, and youngest sister Christina, have become close over the past five years.

Being able to talk about her life stories, connect with her fans and spread her message of fitness is what excites Moceanu about appearances like the one this weekend.

“This is one way where I can show other parents and moms and individuals out there, that even if you are busy it’s important to make time for yourself,” she said. “I get to the gym at least three times a week. I know that I’m a better parent when I have more energy and I take care of myself a little bit better. I think that’s an important thing to remind people of, to make sure you make your fitness a priority … and there’s no greater place than being at World Gym.”

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @ShaunBennettct.