Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes is opening her own gymnastics school in Clarksburg, Maryland. These gymnasts, however, will have an introduction to the sport far different than the academy’s namesake.
Dawes said she focuses on encouragement rather than harsh criticism.
"It’s not as if we are teaching something differently with regards to the quality of gymnastics,” Dawes said. “It’s why we do it and how we do it, and our why is (that) we care about every single kid that walks through our doors — and it shows."
Dawes wants her academy to represent a cultural shift in the sport: a move away from coaching that breaks athletes down in order to build them back up to one that creates a healthy balance of work and play.
The gymnastics center also includes a Ninja Academy, with obstacle courses similar to those seen on the TV show “American Ninja Warrior.”
"If it means I won’t have Olympians produced in this gym, so be it,” Dawes said. “I’m more concerned about your kids being happy, healthy (and) well-rounded.”
News updates for Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia
Dawes was at the top of her sport in the 1990s. She was a team member of USA Gymnastics, but part of the road was paved with pain.
“You never felt as if someone was listening, that someone was there for you,” she said.
Though she was not one of Dr. Larry Nassar’s victims, Dawes said that culture made it possible for him to sexually abuse hundreds of young girls over two decades.
“It is an environment full of fear, intimidation and silence, and he took advantage of it,” Dawes said. “My environment here, there is no fear, there is no intimidation and your voice matters to us.”
Now with her own children in gymnastics, Dawes is encouraged to see Olympic gymnast Simone Biles speak up for gymnasts and is looking forward to the future generation of gymnasts to come.
"They walk in smiling; they leave out smiling,” Dawes said. “That is my goal: for there to be joy, laughter, smiles, and for them to recognize that we care about each and every kid."