Born without legs, gymnast and aerial performer Jen Bricker has never let life slow her down
Growing up in the small town of Oblong, IL, Jennifer Bricker was extremely active, climbing trees, riding horses, and bouncing on a trampoline. “I wasn’t afraid to play in dirt,” she recalls. The only difference between Bricker and her friends: She was born without legs.
“It was never a big deal to the people I grew up with that I didn’t have legs,” Bricker says. “My parents [who adopted Bricker as a baby] always supported anything I wanted to try and helped me figure out how to make it work for me.”
One of those passions turned out to be gymnastics. “I started tumbling around third grade,” Bricker says. As I got older, I started power tumbling.” Bricker competed for four years, winning a state championship and placing fourth in the all-around in her division at the AAU Junior Olympic Games.
Like many young gymnasts, one of Bricker’s idols was 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu. “I was always going on and on about Dominique, how much we looked alike—how she’s small and of Romanian heritage just like me,” Bricker explains.
One day, while watching Moceanu on TV, Bricker’s mother saw the camera panning the audience to reveal the gymnast’s parents, Dmitri and Camelia. “Something sounded really familiar to my mom about them,” Bricker says. “She got the adoption papers and started putting the pieces together.” Her mother soon made the connection: Moceanu and Bricker were biological siblings.
It took four years, but in December 2007, Bricker finally reached out to Moceanu, sending her copies of her legal documents from the adoption, pictures, and a carefully thought-out letter. “I sent it off on a hope and prayer and waited for a response,” she says. Two weeks later Bricker received a Christmas card and a letter with Dominique’s signature. “Halfway through the letter she said, ‘You’re about to be an auntie,’ ” Bricker recalls. “I knew right then she had accepted me as her sister!”
After graduating from high school, Bricker moved to Orlando to work at Disney World, helping visitors plan their days. There, she became intrigued with the acrobatic and aerialist performers. “I thought, ‘I can do that,’ ” Bricker says. “I just need someone to teach me how.” She was introduced to Nate Crawford, a seasoned acrobat, who coached her in aerial arts while refining her tumbling skills. Her training paid off, and she began performing, eventually catching the eye of Britney Spears, who invited her to perform on her world tour.
Making a Change
Almost four years later, Crawford and Bricker, who by then had become partners, moved to Los Angeles. There, she met trainer Eric Fleishman, who helped her refine her diet and improve her fitness. “Eric showed me that you can truly train your body to do anything you want it to,” Bricker says. “I changed my whole lifestyle—eating, sleeping, exercising.”
Today, Bricker continues to perform in aerial arts and also works as a motivational speaker. She also plans to help out at a sports camp for kids missing limbs. She hopes to someday transition her experience into more on-camera work. “I’m just trying to take each day at a time,” she says. “I believe God wants to use me as an example to move people in a profound way.”