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Getting to Know... Frida Esparza

Oct 8, 2020

The eighth installment of "Getting to Know..." features gymnast Frida Esparza, a Bay Area native and member of the Mexican National Team who has competed at two World Championships. Esparza talks about her dual citizenship, how she has already leaned into a team leadership role as a team representative in UCLA's Voting Matters Initiative and more.

Q: How old were you when you started gymnastics and how did you get into it?
A: I was around two years old. I am an only child, so my parents wanted me to do something and found a mommy and me class. I don't remember much, but my mom did say that at a first class I went to, they had those tiny beams, and she walked me across. Your parents are supposed to help you with this, but I wanted to do it myself, and so the instructors told my mom, 'Oh wow she's very talented; you should put her on a team or put her in gymnastics classes.' They were explaining everything to my mom, and she thought they just wanted us to pay a lot, so we kept jumping around until she realized that I really liked it, and so she let me stay.
Q: This month is Hispanic Heritage Month. How has your Chicana heritage shaped who you are today?
A: It's mostly the culture. I've noticed that we're very hard workers, so that's kind of ingrained into everything I do. My parents were always like telling me to put all of my effort into everything that I do, even if I didn't know what I was doing, and to do the best I possibly could, and it kind of just transferred over into my gymnastics - doing things even when you don't know what's going on, going with the flow and seeing what happens. And that's how my gymnastics career has been too, so it definitely helped with that.
Q: You were born in the United States and have dual citizenship and competed at both the U.S. and Mexico national championships. What prompted the change?
A: At first I only went to national team camps here in the U.S., and I wasn't a big fan of the environment that they had. It wasn't a good place for me to be. I was very stressed out, and I was starting to not like gymnastics because of the way things were run. Someone had given my personal coach the idea to switch a few years before that. She had been thinking about it, but she didn't tell me. So she was going through the whole process without telling me in order to not get my hopes up. And then one day, she got an email back from Mexico saying they were fine with me competing for them. She told me the whole process, and I was surprised that she had been doing this the whole time. But I am very grateful that she did that because it was one of the best experiences for me.
Q: As a former Mexican all-around champion, what has it been like representing your roots at the highest level, and what is the next step for you with the Mexican National Team?
A: I had a pretty good experience. They were very welcoming. There were also a couple of other girls who were doing the same thing as me, living in the U.S. but representing Mexico. I got along with them super well because we were going through the same thing. We knew that sometimes you don't really fit in one place or the other and that you kind of fit in between, so we really bonded over that. Everyone was very nice, and it was such an honor to represent Mexico. I was really proud, and I also couldn't really believe it. It was just amazing. As for the next step with the team, at the moment, we're not sure because there are no gymnastics competitions going on, so it's up in the air.
Q: What was your first exposure to UCLA Gymnastics, and when did the program become on your radar?
A: I think when I was younger, I watched a couple of competitions, but I don't really remember that. When I moved to the new gym I was at, my coach was asking me what my goals were, and I wasn't very good back then, but I said I wanted to be elite and eventually go to the Olympics. And my coach asked me about college. My previous gym didn't really talk about that until you were a junior in high school, so I kind of freaked out when she asked me that. I just said UCLA because it's close to my family, but then I started researching more about the school and its gymnastics team, and I really loved the culture and how diverse the school is.
Q: What does it mean to you to represent your culture and community here at UCLA as a member of the gymnastics team?
A: It means a lot to me, especially since I never really thought I'd even get into college. When you're younger, you're fed statistics and everything, so I just thought I wasn't getting in as a first-generation American. But now, I still can't really believe I'm here yet. So I'm surprised, but proud, and it means a lot to me.
Q: What are you studying at UCLA and what are your goals post-graduation?
A: I'm currently undecided, but I'm leaning towards political science. I'm not quite sure exactly what I want to do after college, but I do want to help communities. I don't know yet exactly how, but one of the biggest things that has stuck with me is that I want people to know that they are not defined by the statistics that are made of them, because that is something that really impacted me growing up.
Q: How did you get involved with the Voting Matters Initiative, and what type of tangible outcomes do you hope to see?
A: We took a survey, and it asked what we wanted to be involved in. The Voting Matters Initiative stood out to me. I think it's important to let people know that they have the right to vote and that their vote matters. I thought it was more like an opportunity to learn, but I was really surprised when I was kind of thrown into the deep end and told I was going to represent the team. I was terrified, but I've definitely learned a lot. I think it's a good way to help the community. First, we made a video letting people know how they can vote, especially voting by mail and staying safe. Currently, we're trying to figure out what type of community outreach we want to do. So for civic engagement, we're seeing how we can contribute for that.
Q: Getting back to gymnastics, how were you able to stay in shape during quarantine?
A: To stay composed, I had to think that none of this was in my control; I can't do anything to change this. I can just do my best to stay safe and also be considerate for the people around me. Just going with the flow and seeing what happens. As for as staying in shape, I did take a good two weeks of not doing anything at all. But then I did want to stay in shape just in case we got to go back. I didn't have much space at home, so I'd run. I hate running, and my coach was super surprised. Then we started doing Zoom workouts, but I couldn't really do much because everyone had a lot more space than I did. So I just did whatever I could, like small strength and rehab.
Q: With the Bruins graduating a big senior class, how do you hope to fit into the lineup?
A: I hope to at least contribute on bars. Everyone here is so good, so as long as I can contribute on something, I will be really happy.

Favorite thing to do outside of gymnastics?  Sleep
If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Los Angeles or the Bay Area
Favorite musical artist? Ariana Grande
Favorite movie? Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Favorite TV show? Psych
What are you most excited to do, try or visit in Westwood/LA?  There's a Harry Potter-themed coffee shop that I really want to go to.
Which athlete(s) did you admire or model yourself after growing up?  Kyla Ross and Norah Flatley
Favorite event? Bars. I love doing bars.
Why UCLA?  Because of the great environment and diversity

Previous "Getting to Know..." Publications
Obi Eboh -- Football
Carlie Dorostkar -- Cross Country
Sam Feit - Men's Tennis
Sam Baron - Swimming and Diving
Kengo Aoshima - Men's Golf
Aislynn Crowder - Women's Soccer
Kevin Diaz - Men's Soccer