Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu

Title:Off Balance
Author:Dominique Moceanu with Paul & Terri Williams
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date:10/16/2007
ISBN:1451608659 (ISBN13: 9781451608656)

AT FOURTEEN YEARS OLD, Dominique Moceanu was the youngest member of the 1996 U.S. Women's Olympic Gymnastics team, the first and only American women's team to take gold at the Olympics. Her pixyish appearance and ferocious competitive drive quickly earned her the status of media darling. But behind the fame, the flawless floor routines, and the million-dollar smile, her life was a series of challenges and hardships. 

Off Balance vividly delineates each of the dominating characters who contributed to Moceanu's rise to the top, from her stubborn father and long-suffering mother to her mercurial coach, Bela Karolyi. Here, Moceanu finally shares the haunting stories of competition, her years of hiding injuries and pain out of fear of retribution from her coaches, and how she hit rock bottom after a public battle with her parents. 

But medals, murder plots, drugs, and daring escapes aside (all of which figure into Moceanu's incredible journey), the most unique aspect of her life is the family secret that Moceanu discovers, opening a new and unexpected chapter in her adult life. A mysterious letter from a stranger reveals that she has a second sister-born with a physical disability and given away at birth-who has nonetheless followed in Moceanu's footsteps in an astonishing way. 

A multilayered memoir that transcends the world of sports, Off Balance will touch anyone who has ever dared to dream of a better life.

(Summary and cover via Goodreads)


Dominique Moceanu was born to be a gymnast. Her parents were immigrants from Romania, and they were willing to give up anything for her dream. As Dominique's natural talents quickly moved her up the gymnastics ranks, her parents moved her across the country trying to make Dominque the best. While she had great successes, she also had great lows. Dominque soon found herself among adults who were not looking out for her best interests. When she suddenly receives a mysterious letter in the mail, her life is turned even more upside down. It may take a while, but Dominque is determined to live life on her terms, no matter what.

I'm a pretty big gymnastics fan, and I remember the 1996 Olympics fairly clearly. Dominique Moceanu was one of my favorites at that games, and I was sad that she didn't get more medals. It wasn't until much later that I heard stories about what the situation was like behind the scenes. I was mesmerized by Bela Karolyi and his big personality. I didn't realize that was all an act for the camera. Behind the scenes he was often cruel to the gymnasts and strict obedience was enforced. While results were sometimes seen in the medals and good showings at big events, more often then not the gymnasts were injured, hungry, and run-down. Dominque suffered from the same system, but it didn't change her outlook on life permanently.  While she did suffer through many dark days, she managed to find balance and a way to end her gymnastics career (and live her life) the way she chose. It was quite inspiring.

All of this is wrapped in a second even more unbelievable story. After getting a letter in the mail, Dominique is in for the shock of her life. Her parents had a long-kept secret, a third daughter that they gave away for adoption soon after birth due to her physical disabilities. Naturally this comes as quite a shock, but Dominique's new found balance in life helps her deal with that as well. I found this book very interesting as it confirmed some of the things I had heard and gave new perspectives on others. At times I wish that Dominque had gone a little more in-depth as to things that happened, but I supposed it would have been very difficult to relive some of the horrible times in her life. Dominque has come out as a strong voice for change in the way our gymnastic athletes are treated, and I applaud her in this cause. This book was a great example of not only working through some hard parts of life but also truly rising above and living life on your own terms. Great read.

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