You know her. At the top of 2021, she had us cheering at our phones, wondering how she’d flip, twist, and sashay across the gym mat next. She also made sure to incorporate Black rhythms; like simplified step routines, a famous localized walk, and national dance fads into her big moment.
Running through speaker-rattling, signature hometown cuts like Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” and Tupac’s “California Love,” famed gymnast Nia Dennis scored a 9.5 (pushing the University of California to a win against Arizona State). She was on fire—for a cause.
Following the summer 2020 protests after the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, she wanted to make her stance known. A surgery prevented her from rallying but she was determined to contribute in a way that was meaningful to her. “[The] Black Lives Matter protests were going on and I actually just had a shoulder surgery during that time,” Dennis said to ESSENCE. “I wasn’t able to go to any of the protests, which was really weighing heavy on me. So I really felt like I wanted to continue the fight and stand in another space.” Missy Elliott, Simone Biles, and former first lady Michelle Obama were among those that celebrated her effort.
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In 2022, Dennis is recharging. She’s partnered with Pressed to share a part of her wellness practice; flavorful juice. Her program, aptly called the “Nia Dennis Routine,” consists of three juices and three additional wellness shots to aid in nourishment. Her focus this year is taking little steps, and her signature big leaps, to get closer to her best self.
Below, we talked to the athlete about her biggest moments in 2021, her new partnership with Pressed, and what she’s looking forward to.
ESSENCE: Can you share some of your New Years’ resolutions?
Nia Dennis (ND): Some new year’s resolutions that I have are really focusing on getting 1% better. That’s something I’ve always done in the sport of gymnastics, but learning how to translate it into my lifestyle and what that looks like in eating healthier, living a healthier lifestyle, working out, and even in entertainment.
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ESSENCE: In 2021, you had a huge year from magazine covers to attending your first Met Gala, so what are you looking forward to in 2022?
ND: Oh my goodness, I’m just looking forward to any opportunities that come my way. I’m just so grateful and blessed to be in the position that I’m in. I’m just really excited to dive into the entertainment world. Hopefully, you guys will be seeing so much more of me.
ESSENCE: So of course we have to talk about your viral floor routines. What made you want to include anthems in such a pivotal point in Black American history?
ND: Mostly because it wasn’t showcased enough in the sport of gymnastics. It is a predominantly white sport, and I’ve always felt kind of like an outcast, so I wanted to change that. I wanted to step outside of the box. I wanted to feel like I belonged and felt like I deserved to be at these high levels, but doing it my way, doing it, like me, being authentic to myself and people and things that shape me into who I am today, people I drew inspiration. Just went into that routine because they just brought me so much joy, so much light and energy, and I wanted to bring that type of energy to the sport of gymnastics and then share it with the world.
ESSENCE: I think it’s incredible when Black women have these huge historic moments, and they’re sure to represent their culture and do it their way. You mentioned including some of your inspirations, so I wanted to know who some of your inspirations are on the sports side?
ND: Oh my goodness. There’s so many. I’ll start with Kobe Bryant. Mamba Mentality I think I really resonated well with as well. I feel like I am a hard worker and I just felt like he was just the perfect person to showcase hard work and what hard work looks like. I just try to be like him in the gym and try to work my hardest every single day. I also love Muhammad Ali. His quotes are very impactful. Then course in the gymnastics world, I love Simone Biles, I love Gabby [Douglas]. Those are also my girls, so it’s really great to know people that I looked up to and drew inspiration from in the gymnastics world are so close to me now and my friends.
ESSENCE: Yeah, definitely that spirit of unity across industries is really important, especially with Black women. So I see you with your juice. Can you talk to me a little bit about your partnership with Pressed?
ND: I’m so excited and so honored to be here with Pressed. Like I said earlier, this year is about getting 1% better every single day and Pressed is just the perfect way to do that, by including fruits and vegetables into juice. So it’s really easy to make sure you get all the vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients that you need to fuel properly so you can have the energy need for activity, competitions, gymnastics, sports, whatever you want to do. And they also taste great.
ESSENCE: In addition to keeping in your juice close by, what are some of the day to day things that keep you feeling good, mentally and physically?
ND: Mentally, I start my days off with journaling. I think it’s really important to prioritize your mental health and prioritize what’s going on internally. I start journaling and then I plan a day out by then, and then I’ll work out. Then I include my juices. I also started transferring to a plant-based diet and plant-based meals. I actually was a little nervous to try it at first, but I’ve been feeling so refreshed and feeling really energized, surprisingly, so everything is going really great.
ESSENCE: For young Black girls who are looking up to you, who want to know how they can be the best in their field, what would you have to say to them as they’re trying to strive for greatness?
ND: I would say to always believe in themselves, stay confident in themselves. Don’t listen to what other people tell you about changing the way you look or changing the way that you feel about yourself, because at the end of the day, you only have you and you’re your biggest advocate, so push yourself hard, work hard. It will pay off because I just continued to work my entire life, and I’m just so happy with how things are turning out right now. I hope that I’ve been an inspiration to everybody and especially the young Black girls, but continue to work hard, girls.