NIA DENNIS: AGENT OF KINDNESS
Nia is a gymnast, dancer, and storyteller, helping to re-shape the world of sports on and off the gymnastics floor. She’s on a powerful mission to spread kindness through the sporting community, the world - and most importantly to herself.
CONNECTING THE WORLD THROUGH MOVEMENT
As a world-class gymnast, movement has always been a part of her life, with ballet and gymnastics shaping Nia’s love of sport from a child. Nia attributes sports to teaching her to express herself without words; “I use gymnastics and dance as a means to communicate and connect with others and share my heart with the world. It’s my chance to be my most authentic self”.
And it’s this outlook that has carried Nia through some of the hardest times in her career including a devastating Achilles injury in 2016 which prevented her from making it to the Rio Olympics. Nia reflects “Gymnastics itself is full of challenging times and difficult personal battles”, but she’s not about to let it hold her back from achieving her goal of reshaping the sporting community through her mentorship work.
Nia is connecting with a world she is familiar with, working as a mentor for younger aspiring athletes hoping to compete at an elite level; “I want to inspire the next generation. I want these young girls to find their happiness and to focus on mental health and controlling their inner voices to be kind, most importantly to themselves”.
Moving is something I live for. Moving makes me feel empowered. Through movement, I can dance, connect, communicate, and express myself freely.
SHARING KINDNESS WITH HERSELF AND THE WORLD AROUND
Kindness counts. Whatever we're doing in our lives, it's easy enough to spread kindness to people. Period.
Being kinder starts with how you treat yourself, something Nia has been working on thanks to her best friend and teammate who has always lifted her up and allowed her to become a better version of herself. “There’s no reason to be tainted with outside negativity when at times your whole world feels negative. You can make a huge difference in someone’s life just by being kind”. Nia recognizes the power words have when hearing them from others; “[hearing it ] made a big impact”, and she endeavors to do that for others.
Success in sport requires both physical and mental strength which means protecting your mind too. “I’ve struggled for a long time with my mental health before coming to find these tools that help. Mentally, I take my time.” It wasn’t until she was at UCLA college that her coach introduced her to the power of journaling. Nia journals about everything she feels; happy and sad, helping her understand why things make her feel certain ways. “At UCLA, I learned how to put my true self into everything I do and not be afraid to share my hope-filled messages with others”
When it needed to go beyond writing down how she felt Nia chooses Yoga-Nidra as her go-to for helping to reset and refresh her mind and movement as her access to freedom. For Nia, movement is "bold, exhilarating, precise, engaging, and being free- with no judgment, or fear”.
As for being an agent for kindness, Nia is already making an impact with her work as a mentor for other aspiring sports stars at summer camp. Using her own love for sports and movement, Nia supports and encourages younger people just like her.
CREATING A KINDER CULTURE IN SPORTS FOR EVERYONE
Nia found learning to love and be kind to herself has been essential to her growth and mental health, and now she wants others in her industry to do the same. "I would love to see better sportsmanship throughout the world of gymnastics. I would love to see all athletes uplifting each other and cheering for each other starting at a younger age. We’re all in this together and we should celebrate that more."
Dealing with the opinions of others, as an athlete, is something Nia and her teammates have to face, and with the presence of social media “It comes from all angles. Social media could be dialed down a little bit- it’s a space to have fun and take your mind off things, so when you log on and see negativity, it’s very difficult. It feels like all aspects of your life are negative. So we can all use more positive words on social media. It’s hard enough for sports stars already.”
As well as being more mindful of what spectators say about athletes on social media, Nia believes the real change has to come from the top “with authorities and coaches- even our parents practicing more kindness it will help create a better space. We can create a kinder space in our industry, in sport, starting from the top.”
Whilst working to change attitudes within the sports industry, Nia hopes people take away from things she says. "I want to inspire people to be unapologetically themselves and thrive in their own craft".
As the saying goes, ‘action speaks louder than words’ and Nia’s are coming out in stereo. She is well on the way to making a real, positive difference to the world of sports and beyond- exceeding expectations and staying true to her words; I aspire to inspire, empower and spread love to others.
Shot by: Alima Lee
Styled by: Chasidy Chevonne
Hair by: Johnnie Sapong
Make-up by: Chadd Bell
I would like to be remembered for being bold, for sharing my messages with the world, for being kind, spreading love and positivity, and generally being a good role model.
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