Dominique Dawes Gymnastics & Ninja Academy will hold the grand opening of its Rockville location on Sunday. Credit: Akira Kyles

Have your kids ever wondered what it feels like to wear an Olympic gold medal? They will have the opportunity to find out Sunday at the grand opening of the Dominique Dawes Gymnastics & Ninja Academy in Rockville.

It’s the second location for the gym operated by gold-medal-winning Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes, 46. She’ll be signing autographs, the gold medal will be available for children to try on and take photos with.

“I remember coming back from nearly all of my Olympic games being greeted with proclamation and parades and just the love and support of the whole town going into the Olympic games and, of course, following the Olympic games,” said Dawes, who grew up in Silver Spring. “So, what better place to start these academies than in my hometown?”

A wall decal of Dominique Dawes at the 1996 Olympics in the gymnastic academy’s lobby. Credit: Akira Kyles

The celebration for the new Rockville location at 5626 Randolph Road will run from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and include an open gym, trivia contests, giveaways and an ice cream truck. Reservations are required and must be completed through an online form.

The Rockville gymnastics academy opened a little over a month ago. Its grand opening comes more than a year after her first location opened in Clarksburg during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even with the complications Dawes faced with opening her first location–the pandemic, inflation, a looming recession–she decided to continue with her expansion.


“I wanted to give back to the community that has been so supportive of me throughout my years in the sport of gymnastics,” she said.

The second location is a continuation of the mission Dawes had in mind when she opened her flagship–to provide a positive experience for children interested in gymnastics contradictory to the experience she says she had within the sport growing up.

“In 2016, when the abuses of Larry Nassar came out, with regards to the years of sexual abuse, that the organization turned a blind eye to, I felt compelled, along with my husband, to start multiple academies in our hometown of DMV to be able to change the culture of the sport of gymnastics and make it a positive one,” she said. “While I did not go through sexual abuse, I did know Larry Nassar for 10 years of my childhood, [and] I went through a great deal of verbal, emotional, physical and mental abuse throughout my career.”


Dawes and her husband, Jeff Thompson, have four children ages 9, 7 and 5-year-old twins. Dawes said that she knew when she had children that she would not want them to experience the abuse she went through. The toxic environment that she said she practically lived in as a child was not what she wanted for her kids.

Still, Dawes said, gymnastics “gives [young boys and girls] a great foundation for overall health and future success.” So when her first-born daughter was old enough to walk and stand, Dawes overcame the anxiety and fear she was feeling and took the girl to a gymnastics gym. It is that desire to make sure her children—and all children–experienced gymnastics without harm that fuels her drive to have a healthy environment at her gym, she says.

Dawes aims to give children in the gymnastic academy a positive experience with smiles on their faces. Credit: Akira Kyles

“Now when I take my kids to our own gymnastics gyms, there’s not only a smile on my kids’ faces but a smile on my face as well because they’re in good hands,” she said. “We will have kids walking out of here happy and healthy, sweating and smiling, and feeling good about themselves and being physically strong and physically fit.”


In 1996, when Dawes competed with the “Magnificent Seven” at the Olympics in Atlanta, she became the first Black American to win an individual medal in gymnastics. This not only broke barriers for future athletes in the sport like Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles, but also placed her as an inspirational figure for young girls everywhere. Now, she says, those same young girls are moms who bring their children to her gyms.

“I love hearing the stories of parents,” she said. “Just the other day a mom, probably around my age, had said that I was her centerpiece at her bat mitzvah, and she literally pulled up images from her bat mitzvah of the centerpiece of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ poster. That was the centerpiece of all the tables at her bat mitzvah, and she was just giddy and elated and wanted to have a photo. That always touches my heart because there’s so many people that don’t get the opportunity to meet their childhood heroes, it just takes them back to their youth.”

She is in the Rockville gym maybe once a week and says she pushes much of the gym’s focus on benefiting the children. The gymnastic academy made for children accepts gymnasts as young as 9 months old in its junior gym, and up to age 15 in its “ninja” classes. For a full list of classes offered at the facility, visit their website.


In part with creating a healthy environment in her gym, Dawes said her facilities do not do Olympic training and the competitive team in the facility does not demand more than 12 hours of practice a week. In her youth, Dawes said she trained about 36 hours a week. She started her days around 5 a.m., trained for two hours, went to school, and then trained from 3 to about 8:30 p.m., if not later.

“If that’s what it takes to build an Olympic champion, I will guarantee you, we will not have that here,” she said. “As a mother of four children, I recognize that my children have one childhood, they have that one childhood and it should not be a childhood that filled with that level of physical demands, or stress, or anxiety, or abuse.”



Dominique Dawes Gymnastics & Ninja Academy is regularly open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.