The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Mettle Winner: Dominique Dawes, Olympic Gymnast, Co-Chair of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition

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But the Silver Spring, Md., native — who was named to the position two weeks ago, along with her co-chair, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees — knows it won’t be an easy task to whip the nation into shape.

Luckily, she’s spent her 10 years in retirement getting a head start, leading workshops for children and speaking loudly about the importance of getting more active. She’s also used to pitching in whenever the Obamas ask. (“When it’s the White House, the number comes up on my phone as ‘202’ and nothing else,” she reveals.)

Her strategy for spreading fitness starts with introducing young people to a range of organized sports. “Not every kid — me included — can throw a football,” Dawes says. So, it’s critical to spread the message that there are lots of ways to get exercise.

She’s a fan of Michelle Obama’s new South Lawn Series, which has been bringing local youth together to sample a range of diversions. A few weeks ago, Dawes found herself there competing in a game that required sprinting between hula hoops and snatching up bean bags. “It was tiring but fun,” she says. Even better, these sorts of events are something parents and schools can emulate wherever they are.

And you’re never too old to find a new active outlet, says Dawes, who’s recently picked up golf from her boyfriend. “But it’s not always good to get lessons from boyfriends,” she warns. “He always says, ‘That was good, Honey.’ I say, ‘It hit a tree.’ I think I need a tougher coach.”

Although the Council has been around for decades, for 2010, the group’s name and mission have been amended to include nutrition. That’s why chef Dan Barber — known for promoting local, sustainable agriculture — is one of the new members, along with a slew of celeb athletes and doctors.

It’s a change that makes sense to Dawes, who had to think about everything she ate when she was competing, and still tries to maintain a healthy diet. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re exercising if they’re going home to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. They won’t see a change,” she says. “As Michelle Obama has said, life without a burger and fries would be depressing. I agree. But moderation is key.”

Except, of course, when it comes to making healthy headway; she’s aiming to be the all-around champion. In addition to appearing at public events and promoting physical and nutritional education, Dawes expects the Council to also coordinate with policymakers. With Dawes’ track record, she’ll probably be able to do it while pointing her toes and sticking the landing.

Photo by Michael Temchine/The Washington Post