‘She Looks Like Me’: Gold medalist Dominique Moceanu meeting long lost sister inspires film

MEDINA, Ohio (WJW) — More than a decade has passed since Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu went public with her family’s shocking secret: a sister, born without legs, given up for adoption.

“Her childhood idol became her biological sister. Which is, that is unheard of. That’s like one in a billion,” said Moceanu, recounting the story from her Northeast Ohio gym.

Moceanu and her biological sister, Jen Bricker, lived parallel lives until a clerical error on Jen’s adoption papers brought them together.

Their story is the subject of a new documentary titled “She Looks Like Me,” which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in March.

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Moceanu says it’s nature versus nurture. Despite injury and a revolving door of coaches, she took home Olympic gold at age fourteen. Despite not having legs, Jen became a professional aerialist.

“Their family did not do gymnastics. They didn’t know to put her in gymnastics, but yet, Jen gravitated towards the sport that I went into the Olympics for, and I was the only one she was gravitating to,” said Moceanu. “Out of all the athletes in the world, all the Olympians, and the, you know, like all the people she could have been drawn to, it was me. It’s so wild.”

The documentary, based on Moceanu’s 2012 memoir, “Off Balance,” also dives into their current lives.

Dominique runs the Dominique Moceanu Gymnastics Center in Medina and is raising three children with her husband, Micheal. Meanwhile, Jen gave birth to an adorable baby boy, Malachi, this past summer.

Moceanu always knew she would tell the story on screen; she just needed a director who understood its complexity.

“From the athleticism and the Olympics to the coach-athlete relationship, to the dynamic with my father who was very temperamental, and at times abusive, and very dictator-like in some respects, and then on the other side, he could give you the shirt off his back,” said Moceanu.

As Dominique balances life as a mom, business owner and coach, the documentary also strikes a balance of strength, love, grief, and empathy for situations many could never fully understand.

“My dad passed away shortly after my first daughter’s birth 16 years ago, and he never got a chance to meet my son. He never had a chance to meet Jen. He wanted to,” said Moceanu. “That was kind of one of his dying wishes. It’s like, ‘I do want to meet her,’ and it was kind of something he said right before he passed, and I thought, ‘Well, you’ve come a long way.'”

Moceanu’s parents were born and raised in Romania. While she is open about their cultural dynamics, what she wants most for her mother is peace.

“It was at a very difficult time in my mom’s life when she had to give up Jen. I mean, she didn’t even get to hold her; the decision was made for her, you know, and so there were a lot of extremes happening at that time. My father was not being good to her at that time, during the pregnancy, during everything,” said Moceanu. “They had to pretend that the child didn’t make it when they went home to family, so you know, you have to live these lies when deep down that may not have been what you wanted to do, but tell me one person that has never lied.”

These days, Coach Moceanu is building a culture of her own, teaching athletes to lead with integrity, discipline and respect.

She’s had several challenges in recent years, including a toddler who survived open heart surgery. Still, with the Paris Olympics in view, one of her teenagers may bring the family’s legacy full circle when the summer games hit Los Angeles.

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“It’s a really big deal in our household. Our son is an L.A. 2028 Olympic hopeful,” said Moceanu. “So next quad. I mean, he’s going to be one to watch. So, he’s starting to really make his way with my husband, Dr. Michael Canales, coaching him.”

From one generation to the next, agility and flexibility might be in their DNA. If not, their life story proves that determination sure is.

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