Montgomery County will honor gold-medal Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes with a bronze statue in Silver Spring, her hometown.
The County Council held a virtual press conference on Friday to celebrate the sculpture, which will be at the future Silver Spring Recreation and Aquatics Center.
The sculptor, Brian Hanlon, has made likenesses of Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra and Harriet Tubman and is the official master sculptor at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“What really sold me on this vision that he had was it wasn’t about me — it was truly about inspiring future generations,” Dawes said during the press conference.
Dawes competed with the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics, winning a gold medal and three bronze medals.
At the 1996 Olympics, she became the first African American to win an individual gold medal and was part of the team dubbed the Magnificent Seven.
Dawes attended Montgomery Blair High School and Gaithersburg High School. She trained with coach Kelli Hill of Hill’s Gymnastics in Gaithersburg.
In July 2020, she opened the Dominique Dawes Gymnastics & Ninja Academy in Clarksburg.
She served as the co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition during the Obama administration, was active in the Girl Scouts and is an advocate for autism awareness.
She was a member of the U.S. national gymnastics team for 10 years and has been outspoken about the mental health of gymnasts and the toxic culture of abuse within the sport. Dawes has recently shown her support for Simone Biles after she withdrew from competition at the Tokyo Olympics.
“These opportunities to be a part of something that’s bigger than myself is allowing me to tear down these walls that have been built up around me, that I built up at a very young age in a very harsh environment to protect me,” Dawes said. “But I’m constantly reminded that for me to truly impact people’s lives, I have to reach beyond those walls to leave a lasting imprint on their lives.”
Council Member Craig Rice said at the press conference that the statue “showcases the greatness that we all have within us and what we can truly achieve.”
“There are young girls and boys who are growing up in Silver Spring now who will be reminded, because they see that statue, of the potential that they have, and how great they can actually be,” Rice said.
Dawes’ vision for her gym is a safe, fun and empowering environment for young gymnasts. She wants gymnasts to have fun and ensure that they are being supported, not broken down.
Despite opening the gym during a global pandemic, Dawes said, parents pleaded with her to keep the gym open.
“There’s been a great deal of ups and downs in this experience. We are doing what we set out to do and that is [to] plant positive seeds in the lives of families of kids of the community,” Dawes said.
In 2019, Dawes was among the first round of inductees to the Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame. Olympic gold-medal swimmer Katie Ledecky of Bethesda also was in that first class.
The statue of Dawes will be at the front of the future Silver Spring Recreation and Aquatics Center, which will house the Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame. The center is expected to open in 2023 in downtown Silver Spring.
The total cost of creating the sculpture, storage, moving and installation is estimated at $197,500. The county is paying the costs.
A key aspect of the sculpture is a relief wall that sits behind the sculpture of Dawes. The panel has images of Dawes with her four children, her Olympic medals and a photo with Michelle Obama.
Dawes and Hanlon decided to base the sculpture on an image of Dawes at the 1996 Olympics holding a split on the beam and reaching out in front of her.
“That’s the [image] that called to me because of the intensity in my face because that’s what I was going through,” Dawes said. “And I love the fact that my arm is actually reaching out because, again, this sculpture is not solely about me. It’s about reaching out and making a lasting impact and leaving a lasting legacy.”