The bubbly Sophina DeJesus has been relatively unfazed by the burst of fame that followed her viral video floor routine last week. She is back to competing fiercely for the UCLA gymnastics team, scoring a 9.975 with a beam routine that included a short moonwalk segment. It's another example of how DeJesus has again managed to inject some fun into what at times can be a rigid world of gymnastics.
.@UCLAGymnastics (197.475) defeats OSU (196.125) in Los Angeles!
— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) February 14, 2016
For DeJesus, the daughter of an African-American mother and Puerto Rican father, dancing between the demands of high-level gymnastics and life itself has proved to be a balancing act that has been grounded by her family's love and support.
"I stopped gymnastics for a while," said DeJesus, a senior sociology and theater major. "My family never pushed me to go back."
DeJesus focused for a while more on dancing, appearing on a hip-hop reality show, but like her love for a wide variety of music, her affection for gymnastics helped her return to competing. "I’m very indecisive! I love so many artists," said DeJesus.
One particular inspiration? "Beyoncé! I did a floor routine to her music my freshman year."
Elite gymnastics can be grueling, and though DeJesus made it to the USA national team in 2009 and represented her country internationally, the window for a top-level athlete is a very short one. After suffering a broken back and taking a long time to recover, DeJesus joked that she is now a "grandma" in the sport.
Yet she doesn't look back with any regret. "I’ve gotten to experience elite gymnastics, high school life; I went to prom and now college gymnastics."
The UCLA team has become a second family -- part of the charm of the DeJesus viral video is how it shows her teammates standing nearby, cheering her on and doing some of the dance moves along with her.
"I'll just start singing and dancing anywhere," said DeJesus, who is always up for leading her team in activities to keep everyone loose and relaxed. "We have a Westwood Warrior stomp. We’ll do raps about how we’re going to do in a competition."
Diversity and recognizing diversity in the sport is not something lost on DeJesus -- and the Bruins' program.
"Our team is so diverse, with so many nationalities," DeJesus said. "I really love that."
Technically, the Olympics are still a possibility for DeJesus, who has completed paperwork to have the option to compete for Puerto Rico. Her focus isn't on that option at present, however.
"I'm not really thinking about that," explained DeJesus. "It's the college competition season right now."
When DeJesus has the chance to visit her parents, however, she's always reminded of her heritage by her father, Jerry. Though it was her mother, Maria, who used to run a dance studio, Sophina's father has his own flair for performing.
"My dad, on the weekends, he’ll play Spanish music and sing," DeJesus said. She is also interested in a stronger connection to her Afro-Latino culture. "I understand some words. I try to practice my Spanish now. I want it to get better."
Although her floor routine video has led to the kind of sudden Internet notoriety that leads to marriage and prom proposals, ("I just say, sure, but of course, I'm not really going to do that," said DeJesus), this year could be the end of her gymnastics career. Whether DeJesus finishes with the college season or goes on to the Olympics, she plans to move on from the sport.
"I’m thinking about doing something else," said DeJesus, mentioning an interest in acting. Others on the Internet think her dance moves are good enough to join Beyoncé on tour.
Hit the whip ✅
Hit the nae nae ✅
— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) February 8, 2016
Her family's acceptance of her own path has helped DeJesus develop a resilient attitude about both opportunities and setbacks in life.
"I just take things as they come," DeJesus said, giving advice any young athlete would do well to heed. "Follow your heart, follow your dream, always."