What is the likelihood that you have a sister you have never heard about, never met, never knew existed, and, furthermore, this sister just happens to be a famous person you have idolized and emulated virtually your entire life? Not a chance, you would say. That may happen in a fantasy, but not in real life. In fact, if it were a movie script, Hollywood would reject it out of hand. But, in point of fact, recently, that very scenario occurred for a young woman named Jennifer Bricker. This is a very inspirational story on many levels. Some of you may have read or seen it on 60 Minutes or ABC News, or read about it in the NY Daily News or one of various on-line news services, but for those of you who have not, read on and be amazed.
Jennifer Bricker was born on October 1, 1987. She was born without legs and immediately placed for adoption by her biological parents. In plain English, they took one look at her physical condition and rejected her. Luckily, her adoptive parents provided a loving, supportive environment for her. From early childhood, Jennifer refused to believe that her handicap would prevent her from doing anything. Running? No problem. Basketball? No problem. Swimming, gymnastics, tumbling? Check, check and check. In fact Jennifer became so proficient at tumbling that she became Illinois’ first handicapped high school tumbling champion. Following that success, she placed fourth in the 1998 AAU Junior Olympics in power tumbling. Moreover, she won the organization’s Inspiration Award, no doubt an easy and obvious choice.
If that were the end of the story, it would still be amazing. But, there’s more. Jennifer grew up idolizing Dominique Moceanu, a member of the 1996 gold medal-winning US Olympics women’s gymnastics team, the so-called “Magnificent Seven.” She harangued her parents about Moceanu constantly. “I wouldn’t shut up about her…,” says Bricker. “I knew she was Romanian” (like Bricker). “I knew we looked alike” [I was} her biggest fan.”
When she was 16 Jennifer’s parents shockingly revealed to her that Moceanu was, in fact, her biological sister. Four years later, Bricker finally got up the courage to write a letter to Moceanu with the startling news. She was afraid that Moceanu would dismiss her as a “nut,” but luckily she was able to provide records that documented their relationship.
Moceanu recalls that the news was “the biggest bombshell of my life.” Her first thought was one of rage, that she had a sister her parents had never told her about. When she confronted her parents they confirmed that they had given a baby girl up for adoption immediately after birth when Dominique was six. Dominique’s mother, Carmelia, seems to regret the decision now. She lamented to Dominique “I never saw my baby. I never held her, never touched her, never even smelled her. I desperately wanted to, but your father told me we had to give her up, and that was that.”
As gymnastics fans will recall, Dominique had had a rocky relationship with her parents. They had both been athletes, though not famous ones, and it appeared that they were determined that Dominique would achieve the fame that had eluded them. They entered her into a gymnastics program at the age of three and some would say, force-fed the sport to her. Eventually, Dominique divorced herself from them legally claiming that they had been “abusive,” manipulative,” had “repressed” her and “squandered” her money. Subsequently, she had taken out a restraining order against her father, claiming he was stalking her and, perhaps, had even ordered a “hit” on two of her close friends. They reconciled shortly before his death, but given this history one might argue that despite the stigma of being “given up” Jennifer had had a better home life with her adoptive parents than she would have had with her biological ones, particularly given her handicap.
Dominique accepted Jennifer with open arms. Today, they have a close, warm relationship. They marvel at their similarities, such as their voices, their handwriting and the manner in which they laugh and chuckle. “It’s mind-blowing, “says Moceanu. Indeed, it is.