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East Bay Gymnast Carries Mexico's Olympic Hopes

A born-and-bred East Bay Gymnast is hoping to be the spark that helps Mexico qualify a gymnastics team to the Olympic games for the first time ever.

Seventeen year old Frida Esparza has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Mexico which has allowed her to climb the ladder to become Mexico’s top gymnast — an ascent that has turned heads.

Last summer, the Pittsburg-raised gymnast surprised the 2018 Mexican National Championships by claiming the All-Around category as well as the title on Uneven Bars. A couple months later at the 2018 Pan American Gymnastics Championships in Lima, Peru, she helped the Mexico team take another step toward qualifying a team for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Mexico has never qualified a gymnastics team to the Olympics.

“I can help the team be more like, out there,” Esparza said of the Mexico squad. “The girls are really good, they work hard but they don’t get much attention.”

Esparza trains some 30 hours a week at Head Over Heels Athletic Arts in Emeryville where the daily regimen includes a demanding mix of strength building and honing of routines. The demands aren’t foreign to Esparza who has been in gymnastics since she was a kid.

“I’m an only child so my mom wanted me to be around other kids my own age,” Esparza said, “so when I was like two she put me in a Mommy and Me class.”

The gymnastics bug bit and Esparza stuck with it — accepting the sometimes-grueling nature of endless training while skipping many normal teenage activities.

“There’s a lot of people that are like, ‘oh they are very lucky they got to do this and that,’” Esparza said before beginning of a recent day’s training session. “But they don’t see how hard they train every day — that they wake up and they can barely move because they’re so sore.”

With so much life devoted to the gym, Esparza even does much of her schooling there through the Virginia-based online K12 International Academy, with teachers just a phone call, email or Skype session away.

“They’re very flexible so it’s allowed me to do homework before and after practice,” said Esparza who has pledged to attend UCLA for the 2019-2020 school year.

Esparza’s parents hail from Mexico and have encouraged her every step of her journey though they have never pressured her to continue.

“My mom doesn’t really mind what I do,” Esparza said. “She’s like, ‘you can keep going or you can just quit, it doesn’t matter.’”

Esparza’s decision to compete for Mexico rather than the U.S. was a simple choice of strategy. With a large pool of competition in the U.S., Esparza’s chances of making an impact on the Mexico team were much higher. Her coach said the decision to compete for Mexico has afforded her many opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise have had.

“With Frida competing in Mexico the world gets to see her gymnastics,” said Esparza’s coach Katreece Stone. “We wanted Frida to be a part of a team and to make a big difference, and for the first time be a part of history essentially.”

If the Mexico gymnastics team can crack the top 12 in the next World Championships, it will qualify its first team to the Olympics rather than just being allowed to send a pair of gymnasts as it’s done in the past. A trip to Tokyo would fulfill a dream Esparza has chased since she first stepped onto a mat.

“When I was three I was watching the Olympics,” Esparza recalled. “I was like, ‘I want to do that. I have no idea what that is but i want to do it.”

These days she has a clear idea of the commitments, the sacrifices as well as the sense of what victory feels like. While the choice to represent Mexico has opened doors, her coach said it doesn’t account for all her success.

“She has a lot of talent to back up the hard work,” Stone said, “and that’s why she’s in the position she’s in now.”

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