Abandoned as a baby because she had no legs, Jen Bricker thought being a gymnast was her life’s dream come true. Then she found out her Olympic idol was also her sister
Mudding in a three-wheeler, roller skating, doing tricks on a trampoline – Jen Bricker did them all as a spunky child whose mom and dad never let “can’t” be part of her vocabulary.
And she did them without legs.
“Ever since my parents adopted me, they didn’t just say you can do whatever you want, we believe in you,” Bricker, now 28, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “It was, ‘You want to go roller skating? Put the skates on your hands. We’ll figure out a different way.’ ”
Bricker, whose new memoir Everything is Possible is excerpted exclusively in PEOPLE, was born without legs after a uterine band cut off the blood supply to her lower extremities in utero. She was immediately given up for adoption. When George and Sharon Bricker met the baby girl in foster care, all they saw was her smile. “She was in the crib and had just woken up. She smiled at us and, well, there you are! We were in love and it’s not changed since,” says Sharon.
Bricker grew up knowing only that her biological parents were from Romania and calls her childhood with parents who helped her chase her dreams “one miracle after another.”
For more of Bricker’s inspiring story, including the relationship she has built with Moceanu, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.
“I was theirs and they were exactly who I needed,” says Bricker. When, at age 8, she announced she wanted to be a gymnast, Sharon and Gerald signed her up for lessons and watched her collect trophies in power-tumbling.
They also sat with their daughter as she was glued to TV coverage of the 1996 Olympics, mesmerized by her new idol, the U.S. team’s star gymnast that year, Dominique Moceanu, to whom Bricker bore an uncanny resemblance.
“Jennifer just doted on Dominique,” says Gerald. “Halfway through the Olympics, she said to us, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if we found out we were related?’ ”
Explains Bricker, “I saw her on TV and I knew I was Romanian, she was Romanian, we kind of look alike, all these similarities.”
When Gerald and Sharon later shared that Moceanu was Jen’s biological family’s surname and that Dominique’s parents’ names – at that time, all over the Olympic news coverage – were the same as those that appeared on Bricker’s adoption papers, Bricker says she was stunned. “It was so crazy and amazing. I felt like I was in The Princess Diaries and I found out I was a princess.”