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.
(Story cotinues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
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.