Jen Bricker was born without legs due to a genetic defect and abandoned at birth by her biological parents. She was taken in by her adoptive parents and proceeded to have a relatively normal childhood. And like many young girls of the 1990s, she grew up loving gymnastics and idolizing Dominique Moceanu.
Bricker, 28, watched her idol win gold with the Magnificent Seven during the 1996 Olympics. She was proud that Moceanu also had Romanian-American heritage and a small stature. Despite her physical limitations, Bricker went on to build her own successful gymnastics career.
Then, in 2003, Bricker discovered that her hero was actually her biological sister.
Bricker spent four years attempting to meet Moceanu, and they kept their story quiet for four more years. With their other sister, Christina, they went public with their shocking discovery in 2012.
While that was — and remains — a huge part of Bricker’s life and identity, it’s not all she is. Bricker hopes to share her full story in her new book, “Everything is Possible: Finding the Faith & Courage to Follow Your Dreams,” co-written with Sheryl Berk and released this week.
“Up until this point, publicly and in the media, people have only known my ‘story’ or me as an aerialist or as a tumbler, that’s really all people know about me,” Bricker said by phone from her Los Angeles home. “So what’s exciting is this book is my heart; it’s me. That’s never really been shown before, and not even a little bit. That’s what I’m really excited about — to show people my heart, and not just my story.”
Raised in Illinois alongside three older brothers by two loving parents, Bricker grew up with the belief that everything was possible. Even though she did not have legs, her family encouraged her to try gymnastics when she expressed interest as a young girl captivated by Moceanu. She almost immediately showed promise in the sport and worked her way through the youth ranks.
Because of her impressive athleticism and positive attitude, Bricker began achieving local, national and even global fame, appearing on the “Maury Show” as a fifth-grader and on a German television program a year later. At the time, she knew she was destined to help inspire others. Even at a young age, she knew a book was in her future.
“I’ve known since I was really young that I would someday write a book, although I thought it was something I would do when I was old and had gray hair,” she said. “But I knew two years ago, this was the right time for the book. The time is now. And this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now.”
The local tumbling gym became a second home for Bricker as a child, and she competed against able-bodied gymnasts around the area. She refused to have any special treatment and wanted to be judged the same as her peers. While she said she occasionally got stares from opponents and their parents, she quickly proved she was just as good, if not better, than her competition. Her talent and hard work earned her a fourth-place finish at the AAU Junior Olympics in power tumbling as an 11-year-old and a state title as a high school student, among many other titles and awards.
After graduating from high school, Bricker was attending a local community college when she saw a sign on campus for the college program at Walt Disney World. She instantly jumped at the chance and was accepted. She moved to Orlando to start her job in park operations. She loved the experience and living independently for the first time in her life. She never doubted her ability to succeed in whatever she chose to do, in large part because of her parents and the confidence they instilled in her.
“They allowed me to be who I’m meant to be,” Bricker said. “That may seem like a simple thing, but I can see how that would be very difficult. They allowed me to be who I am and who I’m meant to be, and not who they wanted me to be. They allowed me to have my own mind, so I would be confident in making my own decisions, and that carried over 100 percent into being an adult and making big decisions.”
After becoming “obsessed” with “The Lion King” show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Bricker met performer Nate Crawford through a friend. He was instantly intrigued by the idea of developing a show for the two of them and encouraged Bricker to try aerial acrobatics and trampoline. Despite not having tumbled in a few years, Bricker quickly returned to her peak athletic form and learned to love her new disciplines. The duo choreographed an act on the trampoline and had their first performance at the Amway Center in Orlando during the 2008 Mascot Games.
Shortly after, the two had to put the show on hiatus as Crawford was cast on Britney Spears’ “Circus” tour. It wasn’t long before the then-22-year-old Bricker impressed Spears’ show’s producers and they added her to the North American and Australian stints. Appearing in 40 shows, Bricker called it an “amazing and crazy” time of her life. She also considers it her big break and credits it for opening many doors in the industry that had previously been closed.
While her professional life was thriving, she was hiding a big secret in her personal life. Bricker’s parents showed her the adoption documentation when she was 16, revealing the astounding discovery about Moceanu.
“It was an absolutely mind-blowing moment,” she said. “I thought, ‘How can this be real?’ It was crazy. But then I thought it kind of made sense. We do look alike, we are both Romanian, there are all these things we have in common.”
After exhaustively searching for Moceanu and figuring out how to reach her, Bricker finally tracked her down in 2007 and wrote her a heartfelt letter. A few weeks later, she received flowers and a personalized Christmas card in return. While it would take several months for the three sisters to meet, they corresponded in the interim and finally got together in May 2008.
Their relationship remains a work in progress as they continue to make up for lost time. The three all live in different states, and Dominique and Christina both are married with young children, so it’s not always easy to get together. They try whenever the opportunity arises.
Despite the physical and emotional distances between the sisters, their similarities are unmistakable. When Bricker’s brothers met her new sisters, they were astonished by the likeness.
“My brothers were totally tripping out,” she said. “They were just like ‘Wait, you sound like Jen, and you look like Jen, and you move your hands like Jen!’ They were just freaking out, but then they just realized they had two more sisters to give a hard time to.”
Once the sisters revealed their story, Bricker was relieved they no longer had to keep it a secret — and she was happy she could finally post a picture of herself with her siblings on Facebook.
“It was so tough to finally have met them and have had such a celebratory moment and not being able to share it with so many people in my life,” Bricker said.
Now, Bricker plans to further leave her mark on the world. She wants to one day land a sportswear or makeup ad campaign (“It could flip the beauty industry upside down!”) and eventually get married and have a family — with both biological and adopted children.
In the meantime, she continues to build her relationship with her sisters, and might even begin work on another book soon. Ultimately, she just wants to inspire others with her powerful story of perseverance, positivity and can’t-stop-me attitude. She hopes her message will help anyone, regardless of physical limitations or otherwise.
“Everyone has gifts and talents and abilities, there is equal power in that,” she said. “One is not more important than the other. With that equal significance, what someone brings to the table is equal and has equal power to change someone’s life.
“Their story may look different than my story, but it might have the same power to change someone’s life out there.”