Excerpted here is the first chapter of "Off Balance," by Dominique Moceanu
When you have traveled the world, won Olympic gold, and gone through a very public court battle against your parents all by the age of seventeen, surprises don't come easy. Discovering my sister Jennifer, though—that was a surprise.
On December 10, 2007, I found out that I had a second sister. I was nine months pregnant and about to take my college semester finals. With swollen feet and body parts bigger than I had ever imagined possible, I couldn't even squeeze into a school desk anymore. But earning a college degree was a promise I had made to myself—and third trimester or not, I was going to get those finals done.
Cleveland was cold, rainy, and gray in a bona fide Ohio winter way. All I wanted to do was finish my exams, cuddle up under a blanket with some hot chocolate, and wait for the imminent arrival of my firstborn. But alas, that was not yet in the cards. I was headed for a study session right after a quick stop at the post office.
Earlier in the week, I'd missed the delivery of a piece of certified mail, and the notice had been sitting on my desk for several days. Lugging my backpack full of business textbooks to my car, I felt baby give me a stern kick. I almost lost the certified letter notice in a cold gust of wind and rain. Little did I know, this tiny three-by-five-inch piece of paper would turn my life—past, present, and future—upside down.
As a competitive gymnast, my life has always been filled with challenges that would ultimately define my future. From day one, I was taught to be prepared at all costs. And yet, pulling into the post office parking lot that day, I couldn't have been more unarmed, unguarded.
After finding my place in line, I did finally wonder who might have sent me a registered letter. Only my family and personal friends used my home address. Looking out a nearby window, I saw that the rain was getting heavier. I needed to get home. I couldn't afford to dawdle at the post office. The holiday season lines were longer and slower than usual, and I was getting antsy just standing there when I had so much to do. It seemed that everyone but me was sending packages or cards to relatives across the globe.
I finally got to the front of the line, received my package, and walked out into the rain.
As I awkwardly tried to dodge puddles, I stole a peek at the label on the envelope. The bubbly cursive letters seemed so personal, but the name on the return address was completely unfamiliar to me. Back in my car I tore open the package and pulled out a cluster of items: a typed letter, a bundle of photos, and some court documents. Please tell me I am not being sued! Then I caught a glimpse of something familiar on one of the documents—my mother's and father's handwriting.
The cover letter was a page and a half of cleanly typed words, unequivocal in meaning, straightforward in sentiment. But my head began to spin as I struggled to make sense of even the simplest words.
I've known my whole life that I was adopted…and that my biological last name was Moceanu.
I read the letter slowly—again and again. Breathless and stunned, I sat behind the wheel, staring out the window at the cars driving in and out of the parking lot—a stream of mothers, grandmothers, uncles hurrying in the rain with their holiday packages.