Break dancer Sunny Choi is focusing on mental health as much as physical in prepping for the Olympics

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Sunny Choi has a rigorous training schedule as she prepares to be the first female break dancer to represent the United States in the Olympics. She works with a strength coach and does hot yoga. She diligently practices her gravity-defying flips and dizzying head spins on the dance floor. But the real “game-changer,” she says, has nothing to do with physical conditioning: It’s the emotional strides she has made through talk therapy.

“I knew to be able to perform, I needed to work through my mental health concerns,” Choi said in a phone interview. “I’ve been able to really take the time to finally work through the issues rather than numb them and keep going.”

Choi, 35, has long had Olympic aspirations, though not in breaking, as her sport is now officially called. Born Grace Sun Choi in Cookeville, Tennessee, she was a serious gymnast until she suffered a knee injury as a teenager. It was also during her teen years that she first experienced periods of intense depression.

“I was a high achiever, still in high school, and doing gymnastics 25 hours a week, so I had no social life outside of that,” she said. “Coupled with having such high standards for myself, it went from periods of burnout to something much more extreme.”