Fitness Fridays: Dominique Dawes On Doing Gymnastics With Her Kids, Her Love Of Hiking National Park Trails
By Nneka Samuel
Three-time Olympian. President of the Women’s Sports Foundation. Broadway actress. Co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. Star of Prince’s 1996 music video, “Betcha By Golly, Wow” (a personal fave). Motivational speaker. History maker.
The long list of triumphant feats, titles and overall awesomeness worthy of now retired gymnast Dominique Dawes’ nickname, Awesome Dawesome, is seemingly never-ending. But the greatest, most important title she has ever held is that of mom.
Now a stay-at-home mother of two precious daughters, Kateri, three-and-a-half, and Quinn, nearly two, Dominique takes being her children’s first teacher very seriously. And though Dominique’s daughters aren’t quite old enough to fully understand the impact of her latest advocacy endeavor, they one day will. Dawes teamed up with the National Park Foundation’s (the philanthropic partner of the National Park Service) Parks 101 series. NPF’s President Will Shafroth referred to Dawes as an obvious partner because she is “incredibly energetic and passionate” and “authentically enthusiastic.”
The Parks 101 series is an ongoing celebration meant to encourage the exploration of lesser-known stories of countrywide, national landmarks, and Dominique partook in a day’s worth of Washington, D.C. site visits with tours led by park rangers. Organized around the theme of equality and justice, she went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site – all a stone’s throw away from her hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland.
Read on to learn more about Dawes’ involvement with the National Park Foundation, how she keeps in shape and whether or not her children will be future gymnasts.
MadameNoire: Why did you partner with the NPF?
Dominique Dawes: As a mother, I am my two young daughters’ first teacher in life. And what a wonderful way to teach kids through their experience in visiting the national parks. Not just in the nation’s capital, but throughout the U.S. And it’s interesting because as I was preparing to come to these different parks in D.C., I was thinking, what has my experience been at national parks? And it’s amazing how many spectacular sites I’ve seen since I’ve been married these last four years with my husband and also with my daughters. Both of our baby moons – we actually chose to go to national parks. We actually went to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah. For my 35th birthday, I actually hiked Old Rag with my coach. That was a hard workout. I was sore after that. Even for our honeymoon, we spent much time out in the northwest in Oregon, going to Crater Lake and Multnomah Falls. Went to Ecola National Park, a part of Canon Beach and went to Alaska and saw Denali. I never thought I was like the outdoorsy type and into parks until I actually took some time and thought about these amazing memories and experiences that I’ve had with my husband and with my family.
How will you share this with your children?
When [my kids] get older, my husband and I definitely look forward to sharing our country’s history, our country’s culture and all those beautiful natural resources we have through all of these national parks. People know the name of the Everglades or Yellowstone, the big parks are the ones people really talk about. It’s the lesser-known ones that we want people to explore and go visit and have amazing memories with their families. You can go to findyourpark.com to actually look around and find parks that are within driving distance to you and your family and go visit those.
What would you say to people of color who aren’t visiting national parks and don’t really think about them?
I was aware of [the lack of diversity] but I will say from my experience of going to parks, I don’t look around and notice it so much. My thing is as a family with two young daughters, we look for things that are going to be affordable and that will be able to build lasting memories. And that’s what I say to minority families that are maybe not sold on or haven’t thought of visiting their national parks, to think of those things. With my husband and I with two toddlers, we are not trying to spend a great deal of money to have an experience with our toddlers. National parks are usually free of charge, or there’s a small donation. I would encourage families to look into those experiences because affordable and lasting memories – those are two key things that families are always looking for these days.
What fitness activities do you do with your children?
I’m always looking for positive and engaging activities with my young girls and not ones that I’m just sitting and we’re stagnant, but ones where we’re moving and we’re being active. And even though that doesn’t compare to let’s say running a marathon or training for an Olympics, we are active. We’re walking around. And that’s the experience that you can get at many of our nation’s parks and many of the national parks out there. You can go on a wonderful hike or just be able to see beautiful sites. So you’re being active and you’re also seeing amazing sites. I think it does really tie into physical fitness a great deal. Like I mentioned earlier, when I turned 35 and hiked Old Rag, that was a serious workout. All the sweating I endured for those many hours I remember was a great way to get in shape and stay in shape.
I used to hike weekly with my coach but I am a little skittish when it comes to animals. I’m horrible. So I’m not necessarily hiking the trails that I used to with my coach because she would try to pull me out of my comfort zone. But I will say with my young girls, they’re pretty young, so we’re not taking them to national, historical parks on a regular basis. But recently, I had a speaking engagement in Sioux Falls and my husband and two daughters traveled there with me. We saw the beautiful Falls and then drove across the border into Minnesota and went and visited Pikesville National, which took me back to my Native American roots. So that was a wonderful experience for my husband and I. I don’t know what my girls took away from it other than they were in the car with mommy and daddy. But that’s just a way to be active with my kids and to get a little fitness at the same time.
Tell us about being co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
I loved being one of the leaders there for a good six and a half years and working with Drew Brees and Michelle Obama, a part of her Let’s Move initiative. It was wonderful to not just talk the talk but also walk the walk, and to go to schools or to go to events or be at the White House and not be there solely to give a speech, but to be active with the young people that they would bring in. I would love that opportunity again.
Are your kids involved in sports?
I would assume that it would be too early [to get my kids involved] under the age of six years old, but no, my three and a half year old, Kateri, and my nearly two-year-old, Quinn, we do open gymnastics classes multiple times a week. Just open for them to play. Kateri is already in a structured gymnastics class at my coach’s gym in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I take her once a week and she has a blast when she chooses to listen and when she choose to sit in the class. She, many times, runs out in the waiting room and hangs out with me.
And then on the weekends, my husband and I have a little soccer class that we have them in. It’s really because I’m home all day with the kids, and it will drive you nuts if you stay home, inside, with two very active kids. So from the start of the morning, I’ve never felt like I’ve had to exert so much energy in my life, even training for Olympics. But I am on the go with these two girls, going to a nature center in my neighborhood, walking trails, going to the park, doing these little classes, which are fun. I do love to share with people and say that when you become a parent and you choose to spend a great deal of time and make that sacrifice and commitment to be home with your kid, if you have the ability to do so, I would highly recommend people to do that. Because then you start choosing to see life through the eyes of a child and you start seeing how beautiful life is, how appreciative we are and how a lot of the little things that we would stress over really are not that important. Each and every day, though, it’s a challenge and I love complaining to my husband about how hard it is. But it is truly a joy being at home with these two little angels.