The secret sister of Olympic star Dominique Moceanu, given up for adoption because she had no legs, wrote of her desperation to meet her older sibling in an emotional letter revealed today.
Jennifer Bricker, who knew she was adopted, grew up as a gymnast unaware of who her famous sister was, but that changed when she turned 16, and asked her mother about the adoption.
Jennifer was surprised to find out that her actual last name was the same as the gymnast she had looked up to for several years.
n a 1997 letter published by the New York Daily News, and in Dominique’s memoir Off Balance, Jennifer wrote: ‘Ever since I was about six years old, I’ve been obsessed with gymnastics and I always watched you on TV.’
She went on: ‘You had been my idol my whole life, and you turned out to be my sister! I was in extreme disbelief, and my immediate thought was that I wanted to meet you and let you know.’
Jennifer, who also sent the adoption papers, told Dominique that she didn’t want come off like a con artist or crackpot in her attempts to get in touch with her older sister.
She wrote: ‘I feel that I have one chance to show you and prove to you that I’m not some crazy person, but I’m sure after seeing all of the papers, you’ll see that I’m serious.’
Brought up by her adoptive family in Oblong, Illinois, Jennifer won state titles and competed in the Junior Olympics.
Now a professional aerial gymnast living in Studio City, California, Ms Bricker, 24, has enjoyed a close relationship with her sister since the two met for the first time more than four years ago.
‘I was kinda in shock, who does this happen to?’ Ms Bricker said on ABC’s 20/20.
‘Whose childhood idol turns into their biological sister?’
Brought up by Sharon and Gerald Bricker in the small Illinois town of Oblong, Jennifer Bricker excelled as a youngster at volleyball, basketball, gymnastics and softball, despite not having legs.
It was during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that Jen began to watch her idol avidly.
Her parents then realized to their shock who their adopted daughter’s sister was.
‘When they said her last name, it was like “Whoa, that is the same last name”,’ said Sharon Bricker, who knew only Moceanu as the name of her adopted child.
‘And then they panned out to show the parents in the audience that showed the mother and the father and I realized that they were her parents and Dominique was her sister.’
They decided to keep the information secret from Jen for another eight years until her 16th birthday, and she did not come forward to her sister until four years after that.
Causing her sister Dominique to rail against her mother Camelia and father Dumitru, Ms Bricker waited to meet her sister for the first time after 20 years.
‘It was the biggest bombshell of my life,’ said Ms Moceanu, 30.
‘Rage was my first emotion, had my life been a lie? I had this sister that was born who was given up for adoption, and I never knew it.’
However, things improved once the long-lost sisters met.
‘She was a Moceanu DNA for sure,’ said Ms Moceanu. ‘The features, the tones in our voices, our handwriting, the way we laugh and chuckle, it’s mind-blowing.’
Explaining that as a girl she grew up as a competitive athlete, Ms Moceanu was stunned.
‘Here I was thinking, you did gymnastics? You did volleyball, I was like, who is this girl?’ she said.
Growing up with three other brothers in Oblong, Ms Bricker’s parents did not let her disability affect her.
‘We didn’t dwell on the fact that she didn’t have legs. Can’t was a four letter word she couldn’t use,’ said Sharon Bricker.
‘My parents made me feel everything but handicapped growing up,’ explained Jen, = who works for a performing arts group at Universal Studios.
Meeting her biological mother Camelia was a tough experience for Jennifer Bricker, who was born with a genetic condition that left her with no legs.
‘Meeting Camelia was intense,’ said Ms Bricker.
‘I asked her, did you ever think about me? Did you wonder what became of me?
‘It is a tough question but I kinda think I deserved it, you know deserved a little bit of an explanation. I felt bad for her because she never even got to hold me.’
Interviewed together on 20/20, both sisters were asked what they made of the fact that they both became gymnasts independently of each other thousands of miles apart with no knowledge of each other
‘I don’t think it is a coincidence, it is nature versus nurture,’ said Ms Bricker. ‘Nature is so much more dominant than you could ever made me believe before.’
The Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast made headlines on Friday as she revealed that she had a secret disabled sister and accused her father of forcing her mother to give the girl up for adoption.
She has claimed that her father Dumitru was responsible for the decision to give the girl away, saying he ‘ruled our house with an iron fist’.
The former gymnast writes in her autobiography, previewed on ABC News: ‘My father controlled my mother; every meaningful decision was made by him alone.’
She says that her mother Camelia told her she had no choice in the momentous decision, simply saying: ‘Your father said that our little girl was born with no legs.
‘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.’
After Moceanu was contacted by Jennifer in the 2007 letter, she was so furious with her father that she could not bring herself to confront him for weeks – even though he was suffering from the cancer which would kill him the next year.
When she did ask him about the secret, he replied: ‘When she was born, the doctors told me that we wouldn’t be able to afford her medical bills.
‘I saw her, and she was born with no legs. We had no money and no insurance. We could barely take care of ourselves and you.’
‘It was the biggest bombshell of my life,’ Ms Moceanu told ABC’s 20/20. ‘I had this sister that was born who was given up for adoption, and I never knew it.’
The gymnast had a famously fraught relationship with her parents, emancipating herself them when she was 17.
She was also granted a restraining order against her father, after she accused him of stalking her.
But when the 20-year-old woman contacted her with a letter and photographs of herself just over five years ago, Moceanu contacted her parents with questions, ABC News reported.
Dumitru and Camelia Moceanu, who moved from their native Romania in the 1980s and had both been keen athletes, told her the baby girl was born the day after her sixth birthday.
They added that the baby had medical problems that would require expensive care that they could not afford, so they gave her up for adoption. The woman confirmed this story.
‘Oh by the way, I have no legs,’ she told Moceanu. ‘But people forget that within minutes of meeting me.’
The women now meet regularly and have noticed similarities, such as their love of gymnastics. ‘The tones in our voices, our handwriting, the way we laugh and chuckle. It’s mind-blowing,’ Moceanu said.
She recounts her struggle to reach the top – and how she was plagued by her over-bearing parents, who had both been athletes and wanted their child to have an interest in the same.
‘I think [my dad] wanted me to do something that he didn’t get a chance to do,’ Moceanu said.
They enrolled their daughter in a gymnastics class when she was three, and she took to it at once.
Focusing on the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, her parents took her to try out for famous Olympic gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi when she was nine and she was accepted.
After winning the 1995 U.S. National Championships aged just 13, she was accepted for the U.S. Olympics team, despite suffering a stress fracture in her leg.
At the Games, her first three rounds went off perfectly, but she fell twice during her final event – the vault – and she knew she would be punished for it.
As the team collected their gold medals, Moceanu said she knew her father would berate her following the ceremony.
‘I have this gold medal around my neck. I wanted to take it off. I was devastated. It was heartbreaking,’ she said.
A few years later, she successfully filed for emancipation from her parents. She claimed they had repressed her and squandered her fortune.
She was also granted a restraining order against her father, who had stalked her. She also feared he had hired someone to kill two of her close friends.
Moceanu eventually reconciled with both of her parents. Her father died in 2008 from cancer.
An injury kept her from the 2000 Olympics and Moceanu went to college and married a fellow gymnast, Mike Canales, in 2006. They have two children.
After retiring from the sport twice – in 2000 and 2006 – Moceanu now works as a gymnastics coach in the Cleveland area and holds private clinics around the country.
She has continued to make headlines; in 2008, she claimed her coaches, the Karolyis, had abused her during practices as a child.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, she claimed Martha Karolyi had grabbed her neck and slammed her face into a phone, while Bela Karolyi had twice chided her about her weight in front of national teammates.
‘I never, ever objected to hard work,’ Moceanu said in the interview.
‘What I objected to was Martha grabbing me by the neck, shoving my face into the phone and telling me to call my parents when I hurt my neck in practice.
‘I objected to being told to jump onto a scale in front of the 1995 world championship team, of being forced to do 16 uneven bars routines in a row by Martha.
‘I was completely embarrassed by Bela in front of the 2000 national training team at camp.
‘He completely belittled me and my weight, singled me out and made me feel very small.
‘It was unfair treatment. Martha’s logic is so false but no one would listen to a 14-year-old. I was never allowed to speak out.’
Martha Karolyi responded that the comments made her feel ‘sad’ that Moceanu only appeared to remember the hard days of work, rather than the championship wins.
The coaches are credited for the young girl’s success. ‘Bela Karolyi is the greatest kingmaker we have seen in gymnastics,’ said USA sports columnist Christine Brennan,
‘And Dominique Moceanu had to have Bela Karolyi to become the gymnast that she was to become.’