More

This gymnast always looked up to Olympian Dominique Moceanu. Turns out they're sisters.

Moceanu's discovery of a long-lost sister with outstanding athletic talents might make you reconsider your stance on nature vs. nurture.

This gymnast always looked up to Olympian Dominique Moceanu. Turns out they're sisters.

A quick look at Jen Bricker's physical achievements would make you think she was born to be an athlete.

Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images.


The Los Angeles-based woman now works as a professional acrobat and aerialist, but before that, she was a master gymnast as a teen. She was a tumbling champion at her Illinois high school and placed fourth in the 1998 Junior Olympics. Her talent got her a gig as a featured performer on Britney Spears' "Circus" concert tour.

There's no lack of evidence she's strong and talented — there's even a video online of her breaking two wooden boards with her own hands.

#lifegoals. GIF via Fariborz Azhakh/YouTube.

Bricker never saw being born without legs as a reason to not pursue her athletic dreams.

Growing up, she never really saw her birth defect as a disability. She was drawn to watching gymnastics on TV, trying to mimic the moves on the screen.

Fortunately, her parents were very supportive of her attraction to sports and fully supported her along the way.

Growing up, one of her biggest role models was Olympian Dominique Moceanu.

Photo by Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images.

Like many young gymnasts in the day, Bricker looked up to Moceanu. She was so inspired by Moceanu's talent and still remembers being so excited when she watched Moceanu win the gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Her admiration was so strong that Bricker would secretly day dream about Moceanu being her sister.

And at the age of 16, her parents told her that her dream was, in fact, true. Moceanu and Bricker were long-lost sisters.

The long-lost sisters appear together and share their story on HLN's "Dr. Drew." Screenshot via HLN/YouTube.

The teenage Bricker asked her mother whether there was any information about her adoption that her parents didn't share. To her surprise, her mother shared that they knew her biological last name was Moceanu. Immediately, Bricker had a hunch that she was related to the Moceanu family.

It turned out that the reasons why she was drawn to Dominque Moceanu weren't a coincidence, after all.

On an episode of TLC's "Body Bizarre," Bricker explained her obsession with the Olympian, "I always had such a connection to her, immediately. I saw myself in her, she was small and I was small. I knew she was Romanian, I was Romanian."

Thanks to the professional investigation skills of Bricker's uncle, she was able to get confirmation that she and Moceanu had the same father. Bricker proceeded to meticulously collect as much hard proof as possible so she would not be dismissed as an out-of-touch fan.

Four years passed before she reached out to her sister for the first time through a letter.

As they corresponded, they both were blown away by their newly uncovered history and instant connection.

Jen Bricker with biological sisters Dominique and Christina Moceanu. Screenshot via Pretty Tough/YouTube.

It turned out that their father immediately put Bricker up for adoption once he learned about her disability. He was worried that the financial and time cost of raising a child with special needs would derail his ambitions for Dominique's gymnastics future.

The story of how Bricker was able to find her biological family is truly amazing: The adoption was supposed to be closed so Bricker could never find her biological parents, but a social worker's clerical error failed to delete the Moceanus from the file. Thanks to that error, Bricker eventually got to meet her biological mother, and she now has a close relationship with her two sisters.

As for Moceanu? She feels that the error just solidified her feelings that the reunion was meant to be. She told Psychology Today, "It was destiny etched in stone,” she says. “There was no other traceable route.”

The similarities between Moceanu and Bricker show just how powerful both nature and nurture can be.

Screenshot via laughandlove2/YouTube.

Bricker attributes her athletic success to the love and support of her family. They let her chase whatever dreams that she had.

"When it comes to families, I hit the jackpot," Bricker told ABC's "20/20."

It's quite likely that if she had been raised by the Moceanus, she wouldn't have gotten the same opportunities to fully explore her athletic interests.

It goes to show that when people are able to thrive in a loving, supportive environment, the possibilities truly are endless.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
True

In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."