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Three-time Olympian shares her conversion story

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by Kate Olivera

Denver Newsroom, Apr 17, 2021 / 02:00 am America/Denver (CNA).

Today, Dominique Dawes is a three-time Olympian and Olympic gold medalist. But back in 1996, she was a teenage girl feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders.

“Before the 1996 Olympic games, all of us, we were known as the Magnificent Seven being the first women’s team to win gold. And I felt, and I’m sure my other six teammates felt that as well, a great deal of pressure,” Dawes said in an April 8 interview with CNA.

“It was in the Georgia dome, (with) 50,000 people watching. 3.4 billion people, I’ve been told, watching worldwide,” she said. “Prior to marching out…I broke down emotionally. It was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is too much for me. What if I make a mistake now? I’m not ready.’ And this is something I had prepared for for my whole childhood.”

Her team captain, Amanda Borden, knelt down beside her. And together, they prayed. Dawes said that moment of prayer grounded her. It reminded her that God was on her side, even in that moment of fear.

“It was good to have that reminder that I’m not alone… because he is the one that is going to strengthen me, and he is the one that’s going to strengthen us,” Dawes said. “I remember when I stood up after that prayer with Amanda, I felt free. I felt light…And we went out, marched out together and we all made history.”

God has been a big part of Dawes’ life for as long as she can remember. She was raised in the Baptist faith. Her mother was a Sunday school teacher.

When Dawes was about nine or ten years old, she left home to live with her coach and pursue gymnastics full time. Her coach wasn’t religious, but Dawes said she clung to her faith.

“The seed that my mom planted in me really took. She sowed a seed that has been one that has kept me grounded, (and) has given me this level of discernment, as I think the spirit has protected me quite a bit in my life and has steered me away from some people and situations that maybe weren’t the healthiest for me,” she said.

Once she was old enough to drive, Dawes took ownership of her faith. She began attending an interdenominational church, and was involved in Bible studies and faith conferences.

“(I was) just really seeking peace, joy and happiness,” she said.

Her career in gymnastics had taken off. She was sweeping National Championships and winning her first Olympic medals. But she said she felt something was still missing.

“I never felt as if that completed me,” Dawes said. “I always was on this quest to find that wholeness.”

Her life revolved around gymnastics, which was an incredibly lonely sport for Dawes.

“Especially if you’re training for an Olympic game, you sacrifice your whole childhood,” she said. “You are, in my case, training thirty six plus hours a week. It’s a full-time job for a child and there is the physical, the emotional, the social, and the psychological mental grind that you go through, day in and day out.”

Dawes would train with teammates, but none of them were training at the same level she was. She told CNA that she found comfort in Christ.

“I spoke a great deal to Christ, and just asking for support or crying out,” Dawes said. “I would wake up in the middle of the night, and just go down on my knees because …while I loved the sport of gymnastics, and I had a passion for it and my identity was so wrapped up in it, I did feel what I know now about the sport; that it’s full of a very unhealthy culture.”

“That was why, even as a young person, I would pray or I would talk to talk to Christ or I would write in my journal, because I did need that level of support that I know I lacked a great deal of,” she said.

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