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Gold Medalist Dominique Dawes: Parenthood Is More Exhausting Than Olympic Training

But that doesn't mean she isn't up for the challenge! In an exclusive interview, Dawes shares her five best tips for staying energized and raising healthy kids.

dominique dawes and family Courtesy Dominique Dawes
You know her best as "Awesome Dawesome," the three-time Olympian who flipped her way to an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. women's gymnastics team in 1996. In that same Olympic Games, she also won a bronze medal for her floor exercise, making her the first female African-American gymnast to win an individual medal—ever. But these days Dominique Dawes, 39, has what she considers to be an even more physically demanding job: Being a mom to 2-year-old Kateri and nine-month-old Quinn. "With a toddler and an infant, I've realized I need more energy today than I ever needed to train for three Olympic games. I've never been so tired and I've never been so challenged.... We have not had a full night's sleep in nearly three years!" says Dawes.

So how does she stay in shape and instill the values of physical fitness and healthy eating in her kids? Dawes shared five of her favorite strategies with Parents, in honor of her new role as Goodness Ambassador to snack pouch brand Go Go SqueeZ and its charitable partner, Action for Healthy Kids. “This organization is helping thousands of school kids focus on physical activity and nutrition, and this September I’m going to go to one of these schools and talk about healthy snacking and lead a physical activity workout,” Dawes says. “This partnership is all about having a lasting impact on kids and families, and educating and empowering them.”

1. Exercise as early in the day as possible.

Getting seven hours of sleep a night isn't realistic when you have two young girls who like to rise with the sun, says Dawes, so instead of moping through her early morning routine, she takes the girls out for a walk. "It's great to live where we live in Virginia because there's a lot of trails right near our home. Many times our walk is two to even four miles long." The trio's destinations: Starbucks, or a park or playground. "It is amazing what kind of workout a mom or dad can get at a park with their kids by bringing a ball and just kicking it around, or playing catch, or really getting on the monkey bars."

2. If you eat a burger, have a salad later.

Dawes does a lot of work with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign, and one thing Obama said to her when they first met really stuck with her: "A life without a cheeseburger and fries would really be a miserable life." So instead of fighting the urge to take a bite, Dawes says she feels it's okay to give into her cravings as long as she eats something healthier later. (Her personal weakness is sweet tea.) "It's all about moderation and it's all about making more wise decisions, more healthier decisions than not," she says.

3. Practice vegetable camouflage.

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, and Dawes' 2-year-old is no exception. The best way to combat the problem, Dawes has found, is to become adept at hiding healthy ingredients—like cauliflower and other vegetables—in her daughter's go-to dishes. "Many times when I add in things she'll give me a look. And a very keen one at that, like she knows what's going on," laughs Dawes. But ultimately, she says, her daughter still eats the food.

4. Find an hour of quiet time every week that's just for you.

It's not easy, but Dawes makes sure to find at least one morning a week for quiet–and usually she finds it through prayer at church. "My daughters and I will try to go to mass at least once during the week and of course on Sunday. Just to get a little silence or calm," she says.

5. Give yourself frequent pep talks.

"I co-sleep," says Dawes. "I co-slept with my toddler until she was about a year and a half and I co-sleep with my daughter who is nine months old. And so, it is very difficult for me to get a solid night of sleep because she is with me." The thing that helps the most: "I pull from my days as being an Olympic athlete...I remember those days when I wanted to quit or was too tired," says Dawes, "and I persevere."

Amari D. Pollard is an Editorial Intern at Parents who's obsessed with vintage shopping. Follow her on Twitter: @AmariPollard.