Dominique Dawes, four-time Olympic medalist, never had it easy as an elite athlete, and has not had it easy as a small business owner.
The world-renowned, highly decorated gymnast is one of only three American women to compete in three different Olympic games, and was the first Black woman to receive an individual Olympic medal in gymnastics. But her success had its costs.
“I went through a very challenging childhood, in some degree, where I sacrificed my childhood to win an Olympic gold medal,” Dawes told CNBC’s Dominic Chu at Wednesday’s Small Business Playbook event. “It was 24/7 work, work, work, and if you weren’t doing well in the gymnastics gym, you felt little of yourself.”
When Dawes decided to become an entrepreneur, and founded Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy, her timing could not have been worse. She signed a 10-year lease just before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
“We were supposed to open our doors April 2020, however, we were a little delayed. … It’s definitely been a very rocky journey, but I do believe what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
Dominique Dawes of the USA stretches on the balance beam during her routine at the Georgia Dome in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
Doug Pensinger /Allsport | Getty Images
The first location opened in July 2020 in Clarksburg, Maryland, and Dawes has since opened a second gym in Rockville, Maryland. The economy, however, remains uncertain, and Dawes said she stays motivated as a small business owner by always focusing on her why.
“What keeps me motivated and wanting to grow this business is the why. Why am I doing this?” Dawes said. “I want to make sure that young kids, boys and girls, have a positive and empowering safe space to go to to be introduced to the sport of gymnastics, as well as to the sport of ninja,” Dawes said, referring to the ninja training courses inspired by the television series “American Ninja Warrior” which her gyms offer.
Dawes, who has spoken out in the past about the abuse scandal involving USA Gymnastics and Dr. Larry Nassar — and misguided leadership that she said was focused on “medals and money” — said the motivation to maintain her small business comes partially from her own experience, and she hopes that the positive atmosphere at her gymnastics academies will help develop kids’ intrinsic self worth and self esteem, separate from their performance in the sport.
Seemingly, what didn’t kill the Dominique Dawes Gymnastics Academy did make it stronger: Dawes said she is looking at opening up a third location.
“This is my way of giving back to the DMV [District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia] area that has done so much for me,” Dawes said.