Bruin fans sent in their questions for former UCLA gymnast, Sonya Meraz, and she gave us her answers! Check out our exclusive interview with Meraz below.
How did you get into gymnastics?
I started when I was 5 years old and I saw my friend flipping around on the playground, so I decided to try it. I started doing bridges and cartwheels and her mom suggested to my mom that I should be put into gymnastics. At first we were a little skeptical, but my mom ended up signing me up for a class, which I absolutely ended up loving!
What is your favorite memory of being on the UCLA Gymnastics team and what have you missed most since leaving the team?
My favorite memories have been the little moments with my teammates during competitions, meals, or during practices, but my favorite memory was at the 2018 NCAA Championship when we had realized we had won and saw our name jump to first place on the scoreboard. We were all in shock and filled with this incredible and unimaginable joy. Since leaving the team, I have missed seeing and hanging out with my teammates every single day. I also miss competing and getting ready for competitions and doing my hair, putting on makeup, putting on my sparkly leotard, and competing in front of an enormous crowd!
What other schools did you look at before choosing UCLA and what made you choose UCLA over other schools?
I was looking at Denver before I chose UCLA. UCLA had been my dream school since I was 10 years old. My dad had gone there for his college undergrad degree, and I always knew they had an incredible gymnastics and academic program, which was really important to me.
What was it like being an introvert on a team that seems to be full of extroverts?
At first it was very intimidating, but as I became more confident and comfortable with myself, I opened up more and was able to be myself with the girls. I loved spending [time with] and hanging out with all the girls with the team!
What is one thing you learned from gymnastics that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life?
I’ve learned so many incredible life-long lessons, but one lesson that I’ll carry on with me for the rest of my life is communication. I’ve always had a hard time communicating with others, but through gymnastics I’ve learned to communicate with others about how I’m feeling and other important topics that are super important to me. Communication is used in everything and has been a really important skill that my coaches have taught me during gymnastics.
How were you able to balance doing gymnastics and such a difficult major?
My coaches were extremely helpful in supporting me in pursuing my major, which was really amazing. For myself, I learned the best way was to have a binder-reminder which I used to create a plan of what to do that day and things I needed to do in the future. By breaking things down into smaller tasks with deadlines, I felt way less stressed about balancing gymnastics and school.
How did you get over mental blocks in gymnastics?
I dealt with a lot of mental blocks during club gymnastics and even a few during college, especially on vault and bars. The first thing I did was train my body by doing a lot of basics and drills that reinforced a specific shape or feeling so when I actually did the skill my body would know what to do. I’d also take any necessary baby steps I needed to do to make myself feel comfortable doing the skill, even if it was doing a series once on a low beam, or putting another mat under the beam for a couple turns before I did one of the high beam. And secondly, I practiced A LOT of mental preparation. I imagined myself doing the skill over and over again. Finally, after doing everything to mentally and physically prepare myself for the skill, I learned to trust myself and my coaches.
Now that you’ve finished your undergrad degree, what’s next for you?
I’m hoping to attend medical school in the next year! I am currently applying to med school now and I’ll be working as a research coordinator and volunteering at my local hospital for the next year or so!
Do you still keep in touch with members of the team?
Yes! I absolutely love them and they have become my sisters and will be part of my family for the rest of my life! We still will go to movies or get food, and I still see them around campus when I’m working or coaching!