Since the turn of the century the United States women’s gymnastic team has been a force to contend with on the world gymnastics scene. In fact since they finished second at the World Championships in 2010 they have not lost a single international competition, dominating the last two Olympics and every world championship.
As they head into the Tokyo Olympics in July they are again looking great. There have been some incredible athletes on these teams for the last couple of decades, but arguably the most significant and recognizable names are devout Catholics.
Dominique Dawes and Simone Biles have both been dominant with Biles often being considered the best all-around gymnast in history. Biles and Dawes are both in the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame with Biles continuing her legacy this year in Tokyo.
Both had very difficult early lives without strong parental influence, and both talk about the significance that their chosen patron saints have had in their lives.
Dawes was on the national team for 10 years, participating in three Olympics and winning gold in Atlanta in 1996, the first ever for the U.S. women.
A convert to Catholicism, she got married in 2013 and had four children in four years which she says far outweighs her athletic accomplishments. “My greatest achievement in life is being a mother of four children; they really do complete me. It is far better than standing on the podium,” she told Catholic Sports Radio.
Dawes attributed her conversion to the “open doors” of the church. She was going through challenging times and would go to sit in the local Catholic church which was always open.
She built a relationship with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin during these visits through prayer and listening.
When she was accepted into the church she chose St. Kateri Tekakwitha as her patron since her grandmother had been named after her.
“I love my relationship with Mother Mary since I have never had a strong deep relationship with a mother figure. I have leaned on her in my journey to Christ,” she said. “Those loving arms that you can run into, that sense of comfort and love that I never felt as a child.”
Mother Angelica is one of her heroes because of the courage shown in her ministry. And her favourite scripture verse is, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” from Philippians 4:13. “I know that I am never alone, he is by my side.”
Simone Biles was adopted by her grandparents when her mother was having drug and legal issues when Simone was young. Her faith was vital during this part of her life and ever since. She revealed at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics (where she won five gold medals) that she always has with her the white rosary that her grandmother Nellie gave her.
She makes a comparison between an Olympic medal ceremony and her confirmation, where “no gold, silver, or bronze would be given out. Instead our prize would be something much more powerful … the Holy Sacrament of Confirmation,” she told Courage to Soar.
Biles chose St. Sebastien as her patron and believes he played a role in helping her through a serious sports injury.
She is the first female gymnast to win three consecutive World Championships and is very popular with fans. Known for being joyful and exuberant during her performances, she feels strongly that young Catholics can make it through tough times with God.
“I think it is OK for me to share my faith so kids can see that it helps you through the whole process,” she told Aleteia in a 2019 interview.