We had already informed all of our readers that this year’s U.S. Olympics team was full to the brim with immigrants, making it the most internationally representative our national team has ever had. We would like to introduce you to Danell Leyva, a fellow Miamian who is making us proud in London with his high bar gymnastics routine. He has showcased his talents with his unique dramatic flair, and has solidified his position as the best U.S. gymnast of his generation. He is very confident that he is capable of winning every meet. It is that kind of confidence that has made him the leader in the men’s gymnastics program. He may not be as intense as fellow teammate John Orozco, or may not have captain Jon Horton’s experience and Sam Mikulak’s natural ability, but the gifted Leyva makes up for it in pure belief in himself. He finds motivation in those who have set the bar highest in the field, aspiring to surpass them. In fact, Leyva may be the only gymnast on the planet who wants three-time gold medal winner Kohei Uchimura of Japan to participate in the 2014 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro just so he can have a chance at beating him.
His confidence has been sealed by his numerous years of intense preparation. Leyva remembers the drills his stepfather would put him through during countless hours of training sessions in the cramped and crowded Miami gym his step-father had established after fleeing Cuba more than 20 years ago. Leyva himself was born in 1991 in Cardenas, Mantanzas, Cuba, but left when he was still an infant when his mother brought him to Miami. His step-father, who is also his coach, fled Cuba by swimming across the Rio Grande River into the United States while the Cuban national team was competing in Mexico. Given that he and his mother both were in the Olympics team—albeit as swimming, not gymnastics, competitors—there is no shadow of a doubt that Leyva has an acumen for competitive sports running through his blood. Yet he will be the first to tell you that being an immigrant really affected his psychology in a way that fortified his mental and physical strength.
The struggle he had lived alongside his family is one that pushed him to become the best that he could be without looking back, only forward. He also felt a lot of pressure growing up as a child of immigrants who on top of that were athletes themselves, thereby instilling in him the know-how, confidence and tenacity to be the best. While this pressure may have been a lot for some to bear, he thrived in it. And now, he loves the attention he gets for his long, hard efforts. He very much enjoys being the main attraction especially as he pulls his signature move on the horizontal bar the “jam-dislocate-hop to under grips.” Leyva has his eyes set on gold and keeps saying that he is going to win the Olympics, but he does not mean it in an arrogant way.
Since he can remember, Leyva has had a deep sense of faith, which was ingrained in him by his family who, against all odds, were able to flee persecution in Cuba and build a new life for themselves in Miami through hard work, dedication, and faith. Leyva believes in himself and that he is capable of accomplishing his utmost goal, as long as he can envision himself doing so, he will accomplish it, because according to his coach, “everything he believes in, he does.”