UCLA Bruins gymnast Sophina DeJesus took the nation by storm two weeks ago with her impressive dance moves and bubbly personality. The 21-year-old helped defeat Utah with her routine, bringing the No. 7 ranked team out of a six-game losing streak.
In a profile by The Los Angeles Times, DeJesus shared her life-long journey with gymnastics. From TV opportunities, several injuries, and a chance at Olympic stardom, the biracial beauty has come a long way and isn’t ready to give up.
Here are some fun facts about the viral sensation.
DeJesus has a rich family tree. Her grandfather Webster Moore, a retired Cal State Northridge academic counselor, was responsible for helping Angela Davis become the first Black professor to teach at UCLA. Moore was also a Navy vet who taught career skills to Black students during the Civil Rights Movement. Her mother also served as a juror on the Rodney King trial.
Her family said DeJesus has been in love with dance and gymnastics since she was a kid. After starting the sport in a club gym, she went on to perform at Disneyland. Her enthusiasm wasn’t always welcomed. The student said her excitement over the sport caused other parents to keep their children away from her. “I didn’t have any friends then,” she recalls. “I was so sad.” She went on to take part in elite gymnastics, but also had a knack for dancing.
DeJesus and her sister eventually starred in Discovery’s hit show Hip Hop Harry after entertainer Debbie Allen suggested the teen should get an agent.
DeJesus said her furthered interest in dance and acting came about after the pressures affiliated with Olympic stardom got to her.
In 2009, DeJesus took part in the Olympics, winning the gold during a junior competition. Following her big win, she fractured her spine. After starting Temecula Valley High, her mother said her injury deterred her from talking to other students. When she settled into her own during sophomore year, she made a return to her passion by joining the dance team. She decided to also return to gymnastics after starting at UCLA while getting her degrees in sociology and theater.
Her dance moves have been compared to Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime performance by her family and fans. While speaking with the Los Angeles Times, her grandfather said King Bey is the adult version of his granddaughter.
“Beyonce, it’s like Sophina as an adult,” he said. “It’s the same moves, the same energy inside, the same calmness, but at the same time to be able to demonstrate all that beauty. When Beyonce walks out, like when Sophina goes on the floor, she is totally in love with movement and spirit.”
Celebrities like Ashton Kutcher showed love to the star by sharing her viral video. With over 20 million views, fans love DeJesus’ dance moves. DeJesus said she’s able to be more freeform in competitive gymnastics because it requires entertaining moves to capture the judges’ attention.
She’s Proud Of Her Roots & Possible Olympic Future
With only 6.61 percent of people of color in US Gymnastics, DeJesus is happy her team demonstrates diversity. She’s also proud of her Puerto Rican and African-American roots. She wasn’t able to fully learn Spanish as a child, but hopes to learn now. Her grandfather believes she works hard because of her love for the sport, not to be the best woman of color on her team. Olympic reps in Puerto Rico are still knocking at her door, but she might be prepared to leave it all behind for acting. DeJesus graduates from UCLA in May and plans to reside in Los Angeles and pursue her dreams.