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All About Team USA Breakdancer Sunny Choi: From "Robot" to “This Is Your Calling”

Sunny Choi, the first American woman to qualify for breaking at the Summer 2024 Olympics, pulls off daring moves in and out of competition.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

You go, B-girl!

Tennessee-born breakdancer Sunny Choi has already notched a couple of awesome firsts, even as this driven and dynamic competitor counts the days until she represents Team USA in the Summer Games in Paris, the first Olympics to include breakdancing. 

Choi won the first gold medal ever presented in breaking – the official name for a 50-year-old acrobatic urban dance style — at the Pan American Games in November 2023, AP reported. By clinching that honor Choi became the first American woman to qualify for breaking at the 2024 Olympics. 

Choi’s ascension to the rarefied rank of Olympian is the realization of a decades-long dream. To get there, she made a shift in her professional life as daring and head-spinning as moves she executes in competition. Learn more about Choi as the July 26 start date for the Olympics draws closer. 

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Sunny Choi's portrait during the 2024 Team USA Media Summit

Where is Sunny Choi from?

Grace Sun Choi, 35, was born in the Nashville suburb of Cookeville. One of four children of South Korean immigrant parents, she’s always been called Sunny, per ESPN.

She developed a passion for athletics early on. By age 3, she’d fallen head over heels for gymnastics. The seed of being an Olympian was planted as she watched the U.S. women’s team compete at the 1992 Barcelona Games. 

At age 7, the family moved to Lexington, KY, where her Korean roots made her something of an outsider and marked her for bullying. But she persevered. She pursued gymnastics in high school and at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. She eventually quit the sport because of a knee injury, NBC News reported.

Around the same time, she discovered breaking. She was drawn to its demanding athleticism and free-style expressiveness. She honed her skills and after graduating in 2011, she moved to New York City and secured a marketing job that enabled her to pursue breaking on the side. Balancing both worlds was its own challenging dance. 

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How She Copes with the Pressure 

Sunny Choi competes during Breaking For Gold USA regional competition

High-flying careers and elite sports competition are both pressure cookers. Choi is as methodical about her mental-health coping strategies as she is about her moves on the mat.

She’s had to be. Choi has struggled with cycles of depression since adolescence. At the time, she said in the same NBC News report, “Seeking a therapist wasn’t seen as a normal thing.”

Thankfully, times have changed. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Choi focused squarely on self-care. She found a therapist she could see regularly. Last year she quit her corporate job and put breaking and her mental health first.

Therapy sessions — provided free by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee — have helped Choi to go easier on herself when it comes to fear of failure and setting great expectations. She’s also forged a better connection with her own feelings. Having a deeper well of emotions to tap into has paid off personally and on the mat.

“Having to learn to be gentle and kind and compassionate with myself has been one of the most difficult, but also one of the best, lessons that I’ve learned,” she said.

Her Previous Corporate Job

Sunny Choi breakdancing at a Panasonic press event

Choi used her business school education to carve out an impressive corporate career. In her most recent position, she was director of global creative operations for skincare at Estée Lauder Skincare. 

Despite the security and salary, personal rewards and enrichment were in scant supply. Her work left Choi feeling empty, unfulfilled, and, she said, like “a robot.”

“I was squeezing in as much as I could and basically working to fund my breaking,” Choi told nbcolympics.com. “But it wasn’t sustainable. I was really breaking myself down from being too busy.” 

In July 2022, Choi’s silver-medal win at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, marked a turning point. The Olympics seemed within Choi’s grasp. At the time, her mom told her “This is your calling.”

Choi answered it. Late last year she quit her job and committed to breaking full-time. For Sunny Choi, one door closes and another one opens — at the Paris 2024 Games.

Don't Miss

Watch live coverage of the Opening Ceremony on Friday, July 26, on NBC and Peacock beginning at 12 p.m. ET. Telemundo will provide Spanish-language coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET. Primetime coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC and Peacock.

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