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Off Balance: A Memoir Paperback – June 4, 2013
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“A rousing, intimate memoir… relentlessly candid.” (Vogue.com)
About the Author
Dominique Moceanu is the youngest American gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal, and the youngest to win a Senior National All-Around Title. She lives near Cleveland, Ohio. Visit Dominique-Moceanu.com.
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Top Customer Reviews
As fans of celebrities we pick up on a person during or after their major achievements. In the case of Moceanu (for most) this would be 1996 when she and the U.S. Woman's team won a gold medal in the team competition for gymnastics. She was just 14 years old. I assumed it took a lot of hard work to get there, and that the path was not easy. I also assumed that it was a childhood lost and replaced with the hard work and determination of an adult. This book certainly confirms these theories. I feel I can write this without it being a real spoiler for anyone.
We (the public) see the glorious results and have some appreciation for how difficult it is to achieve the results, but no true understanding. This memoir humanizes Moceanu's achievements and it does it in an incredibly well thought out and touching way. For example, most fans knew her family was Romanian - but probably few considered what that truly meant. It meant that Moceanu is a first generation American who came from a poor family of immigrants... a family which had a financially unsteady situation. It may be hard enough to achieve greatness, but it is even harder living in a two-bedroom apartment with your parents, sister and grandparents. Most great gymnasts tend to be on the small side, but have any fans considered what it is like to be the smallest person in your class selected last to play a sport in gym class, have a funny sounding name and come to school with food that is unlike your classmates' food at lunch time? No one imagines the small tiny hardships that add up to a difficult life when they see a girl and a gold medal on a podium in front of the entire world. This memoir helps you to relate to Moceanu as a human - a young girl who faced kids in school as cruel as the ones you went to school with, but she faced them with much more adversity than most of us did in our own lives.
It is a poorly kept secret that elite child athletes often face abuse (which comes in multiple forms: physical, mental, emotional). Gymnastics seems to be particularly notorious for this. What I appreciate about this memoir is that it reads like someone trying to tell a story as a way of explaining their life... and not like someone who has an ax to grind. Many memoirs are "grinding axes" in disguise, but fortunately this does not come off as one of them in my opinion.
Moceanu does a great job reflecting on what was great in her childhood and what she appreciated about her life as well as noting things she has set out to change about her own children's childhood. It also brings an additional remarkable component about her lost sister and how the discovery altered everything she knew and perceived about her family which, frankly, was already enough for ten lifetimes!
If I had one criticism of the book it is the way in which the chronology was broken up to weave past and current together (i.e. the story of her lost sister). It was awkward to follow and I think the reader's feeling of being disjointed outweighed what Moceanu was probably going for by doing it. This is a small issue mentioned only because no product review should fail to mention "the negative".
The story is remarkable and inspiring, there is no question of that. It is told well and with great detail that takes a lot of courage to share with other human beings (let alone publish in a book). You do feel that you are a better person for having understood the path someone else experienced in life and the challenges they faced and the lessons they learned. You can not ask for more after reading a memoir. Highly recommended.
I was a gymnast from the age of 4 through high school. I was never a club or Elite gymnast by any means, but I could hold my own in my high school conference. Needless to say, I have been a fan of gymnastics for years and remember watching the 1996 Olympics.
This book is about Moceanu's life; not just the Olympics, not just the Karolyi's, and just her emancipation, and not just her recently found sister. This covers everything, and that is a lot to cover in one book. At times I wished for more details about events, especially the Olympics and the emancipation trial. However, during the Olympics, Moceanu was a young girl and she purposefully didn't watch her teammates' routines so as not to throw off her concentration, so she doesn't have many details to share about those specific meets. Also, I'm sure even thinking about the emancipation trial is still difficult for her, so I can't fault her for not writing much about it.
She jumped around in the book a bit, it did not flow chronologically which was confusing at times. The chapter titles tell you what it will be about, but there was still some timeline jumping throughout.
I was very interested to hear her take on the Karolyi's. I've heard mixed reviews about their practices over the years, especially after Kerri Strug's famous vault. For gymnasts to be competing at the level that we see them on TV, one has to expect them to work hard and their time in the gym will be tough. However, Moceanu's descriptions of how she was treated by the Karolyi's before the Olympics and even in years after the Olympics are deplorable. Yes, this is one girl's experience and possibly not everyone was treated like that at the time and isn't even now. Even so, this was her experience and how she internalized it and remembers it, and it breaks my heart. Then, in the past few years for her to be blackballed essentially and not allowed to compete even after doing all that was asked of her is just plain wrong. There is too much bureaucracy in gymnastics, and she's right, "Do we really want someone who financially benefits from hosting training camps telling us we need more of these camps throughout the year? Shouldn't an unbiased individual...be making those decisions?"
Overall, I thought it was a good book. It makes me look differently at the sport that I love to watch - especially during Olympic games. Also, the pages of photos in the center of the book were nice to see - young Moceanu through her children and reunion with her sister.
Watch Bela during interviews - he really is a sleazy suave guy, isn't he?