Magazine Feature / People

Gymnast enjoys challenge of studies, training

When sophomore psychology major Jessica Lopez came to the U.S. from Caracas, Venezuela, to attend the University of Denver, she said the transition was hard.

She admits to sitting in the classroom not understanding a thing her teachers said; she admits that she didn’t go outside [for fun] her entire freshman year because homework took so long; she admits that she found it difficult to make friends.

She was also a world-class athlete attending DU on a gymnastics scholarship, so she had at least two trainings each day in the gym.

And still, Lopez smiles shyly and says simply, “It was hard.” And the very next thing you realize about Lopez is that when something is difficult, she enjoys it.

At the age of 4, Lopez was taking gymnastics lessons. At 10, she was invited to join the Venezuelan National Gymnastics team, an honor which meant she would have to leave her family’s home and live in a dorm with other athletes, training and attending school every day.

She did so well she has never returned home, though she remains close to her family.

Over many years of competition, Lopez placed third on bars and fifth on the beam at the 2003 Pan American Games; she was a three-time national champion on the floor in Venezuela; and she was a two-time national champion on the beam.

When she failed to qualify for the Olympics in 2005, Lopez set her sites on a new goal: a college education on a path to make gymnastics her life-long career.

“I want gymnastics to be my job,” she says. “I’m very interested in sports psychology and how our brain controls everything we do. I would like to help teams get control of their emotions and move in the same direction.”

This year, Lopez has been among the nation’s top-ranked NCAA Division I competitors on the uneven bars, which is a favorite event of hers, along with the floor.

Perhaps because she has seen so much in her short lifetime, Lopez understands that her time at DU is precious.

“It is hard to go to school and compete, but it’s also exciting. When this time of my life is over, I will have a job and then all of this will be done. Right now, I’m part of a team, and we are all focused on the same goal.”

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