A common concern, mutual mentor and a few years’ patience lead Dominique Dawes to the moment Friday when she found herself, microphone in hand, interviewing First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2012 London Olympics.
Dawes, holder of four Olympic medals (including a gold as part of the 1996 Magnificent Seven gymnastics team in Atlanta), knows pressure. And she was flawless as she bounced between questions and answers Friday morning at a training facility on the Olympic grounds.
“I have been pushing for this interview for about two years now,” Dawes explained afterward. “I would pitch it to her press secretary and would be politely declined.
“I guess it’s not that bad, though. I was watching Oprah the other day and she said it took her years to get an interview with the author of Harry Potter.”
Dawes may have had a slight advantage over others when it came to getting onto the First Lady’s schedule. Aside from her duties as an analyst at FOXSports.com, she just happens to co-chair the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. She actively supports the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” program as well.
Her history with the First Family goes back to before the president was even considering running for office. She credits three of her most important mentors—Janet Hill (Grant Hill’s mother) and Cliff and Adele Alexander (a prominent couple in Washington, DC)—for eventually helping form a bond between a gold medalist and a powerful political family. In a unique twist to the relationship, Dawes said she learned recently that Hill had mentored the First Lady as well.
She knew an offer to help the president would be coming. Still, co-chairing the 16-member council is an honor she didn’t take lightly when approached.
"I knew that I was being considered for the position and that I would be the co-chair,” she said. “I know a lot of the prior athletes who were on it. I knew I could make a big impact. But at the time I was in my early 30s and thinking about what things I would be committing my time to. I was only considering things that fit into my schedule.”
Then a call came from a number she instantly knew was the White House.
"I knew it was the White House because it was a 202 number," she said. “But it was just the area code. No other digits at all.”
It seemed like the perfect fit. Not only did she already know the Obamas, she also had dedicated her life after retiring from gymnastics to motivating others. As a motivational speaker, she focuses on leadership, teamwork, health, fitness and wellness.
"I’m very passionate about motivation,” she said. “It’s a lot of work to serve on this council. But I can have a big impact on the lives of children.”
The First Lady shares her passion for fitness and nutrition, starting the “Let’s Move” initiative in response to the growing issue of childhood obesity.
"(The Obamas) have resources,” Dawes said. “When she learned the number of families that have really limited resources for good health and nutrition, it really moved her,” Dawes explained.
Video courtesy FOXSports.com