“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.
Dawes retired from gymnastics in 2000. Around the same time, she began to feel drawn to visit a Catholic church in the Rockville area of Washington.
“I would go and I would just sit in this church knowing very little about the Catholic faith, but I felt called to be there. I loved the sense of peace and silence,” she said.
A few years later, Dawes enrolled in RCIA, and she fell deeper in love with the Catholic faith. She told CNA she felt a special connection with the Virgin Mary.
“I always felt as a young person, while my mom did the best that she could, and my coach who many times was labeled as a mother figure, neither of them were truly happy people,” Dawes said. “I felt as if I wanted to find... a mother who maybe was happy. Those loving arms that you can run into and just feel that sense of comfort and love, which I never felt as a child.”
Dawes became a Catholic in 2013. She married a Catholic school teacher, and today they have four children together.
She discovered that her grandmother was Catholic. Dawes believes her grandmother was guiding her to the Catholic faith.
“My grandmother...was named after Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, when she was a blessed woman, the first Native American saint,” Dawes said. “My grandmother was full Piscataway Conoy Native American, and she was Catholic. I knew very little about this until I became an adult. And I was like, ‘Oh, and that's my grandmother I felt calling me into this Church.’”
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Even though Dawes has retired, gymnastics continues to be a big part of her life. Today, she owns and operates a gymnastics academy for young people in the D.C. area. She said she strives to foster a healthy culture at her gym, a culture markedly different than the one she was trained in.
“It is not the sport of gymnastics that is an unhealthy and corrupt sport. It is the culture, and the culture is determined by the people,” she said.
She’s particular about the trainers she hires to work with young gymnasts at her gym, and she said she can notice the difference.
“The people that I have on board, they really are so positive. I love it,” Dawes said. “It amazes me, because of the environment that I came from that was so critical. Like, nothing you could do in the sport of gymnastics was right. Nothing was ever good enough.”
“I told my husband, when I opened these doors, I said, ‘I really want this big sign that says ‘You are Enough’.’”
“I want every young girl and young boy that walks through our doors, either for Ninja or gymnastics or preschool gymnastics, to realize that they have everything inside of them to help them succeed in life. And that they are more than enough because the sport teaches you that you're not enough,” she said.