Jennifer Bricker did not have the best start in life. Born without legs in Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Socialist Republic of Romania, she was abandoned by her biological parents.
Luckily for her, she was adopted by an American couple who raised her to believe that she could be anything she wanted to be. Jennifer grew up to live a happy and fulfilling life. But when she found out the truth about where she really came from, it blew her mind.
Born on October 1, 1987, Jennifer suffered from a rare genetic defect that meant she was missing most of both of her legs. Although she wasn’t diagnosed with any further complications, Jennifer’s biological parents were afraid of the medical expenses associated with raising a disabled child in Romania.
Instead, they abandoned the child. Jennifer’s fortunes, however, were soon on the up. When she was just three months old, she was adopted by a couple from a small Illinois town.
Sharon and Gerald Bricker already had three sons in their family when they decided to adopt Jennifer. Keen to instill confidence in their new daughter, they were determined to ensure that she would not let her disability stand in the way of her dreams.
“As a kid I didn’t understand why people thought I was an inspiration,” she said in an interview with TV show Body Bizarre. “I’m just like my friend. She’s playing softball, I’m playing softball, what’s the difference?”
As Jennifer grew, she successfully tried her hand at several sports, including volleyball and basketball. But it turned out to be gymnastics that really captured her heart.
Her parents encouraged her to push herself, and at the age of 11 she won the title of power tumbling champion for the state of Illinois. When her buddies complimented her on achieving success despite her handicap, she had a characteristically humorous response.
“She would say, ‘I’m not handicapped,’” reported the Huffington Post. “Then they would reply, ‘Well, you use a wheelchair.’ She claimed that the purpose of the wheelchair was just to keep her from getting dirty.”
Although many viewed Jennifer herself as an inspiring figure, the young girl admired an idol of her own. She aspired to be just like Dominique Moceanu, the youngest gymnast of the team that won Gold for the United States at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Jennifer saw something of herself in Dominique. Both girls had Romanian heritage, and both shared the same small stature and outgoing personalities. But when Jennifer was 16, she would find out that their connection went far deeper.
As a teenager, she started to ask her parents questions about her biological family. Jennifer had always known that she had been born in Romania, but that was about as far as her knowledge went.
When the time came, her mother was prepared to answer Jennifer’s questions. Sharon fetched a folder full of information on Jennifer’s birth parents. The teenager was in for a shock – incredibly, her birth name was the same as that of her idol, Moceanu.
As soon as the revelation was made to her, Jennifer knew the truth – that Dominique Moceanu was her biological sister. But it was another four years before she felt ready to approach the gymnastics superstar with what she knew.
Finally, in 2007, Jennifer penned a letter to Dominique. In it, she explained that the gymnast had been an inspiration throughout her life and that she hoped the two could make contact. She also enclosed documents that supported her claim.
For Dominique, the letter came as a total shock. Her relationship with her parents had always been strained, and she had legally emancipated herself from them in 1998. But she had no idea that she had a sister who was abandoned at birth.
When Dominique spoke to her parents about Jennifer, they did nothing to deny her existence. The girls’ mother Camelia claimed that her husband had compelled her to give Jennifer up, citing as a reason the expense of the medical treatment the baby would need.
Dominique told ABC about her mother’s memories of Jennifer. “I never saw my baby,” the girls’ mother had said, “I never held her, never touched her, never even smelled her. I desperately wanted to, but your father told me we had to give her up and that was that.”
When Jennifer and Dominique finally got to meet each other, the resemblances were uncanny. Not only did they look alike, but they also shared the same mannerisms and even had similar handwriting. Jennifer also met her younger sister, Christina, to whom she looks almost identical.
Today, the three girls are becoming like real family, and Jennifer’s career has gone from strength to strength. Currently working as a professional aerialist and acrobat, she continues to draw strength from the values her adoptive parents instilled in her. “When you’re growing, you’re inspired,” she said. “You inspire yourself, and then others.”