GREENWICH — Which FCIAC athlete is the most dominant in his or her sport? It is an open debate, but Greenwich’s Adnerys De Jesus is certainly in the discussion.
Narrow down the question to pick the performer with the best combination of talent and selflessness and De Jesus, as is usually the case, might stand alone on the top pedestal.
De Jesus is the leader of the Cardinals’ gymnastics team, the defending all-around champion and, as a junior, already one of the best gymnasts in league history. De Jesus helped Greenwich win its first FCIAC title in 34 years last winter, and on Saturday it will try and repeat.
“I was so happy,” De Jesus said when asked about last year. “Going into FCIACs I was so nervous, and I don’t usually get nervous, not even for my club team. Knowing we could win an FCIAC title and bring something to the school and bring some popularity into the sport. So definitely being a team player and winning FCIACs was definitely an honor. I was so happy.”
With De Jesus, it is about the team over the individual, which makes her story so much more compelling than the average profile of someone who excels in a sport. And make no mistake, De Jesus excels. She has routinely scored over 38 points in the all-around this season. She competes for the Darien YMCA. In fact, she is the only level 10 gymnast — the highest rung — competing for a YMCA team in the country. She is the defending national champion.
De Jesus’ sport is more specialized than most, and very few compete — or are even allowed to by their clubs — for their high schools. That is consistent with De Jesus’ refreshing mindset. She was not part of the Greenwich team as a freshman, but joined last year, she said, in part, because of the urging of the mother of one of her teammates. Imagine a good high school team getting the equivalent of LeBron James added to its lineup and that was the case for the Cardinals.
“Freshman year I wanted to do it and then a lot of people from my club team told me I was going to get hurt and it wasn’t good for me,” De Jesus said. “It takes up a lot of your time and I would slack off at Darien. Then I gave it a shot and I didn’t regret it at all. I regret not doing it freshman year.”
De Jesus started gymnastics after getting interested watching the Bejing Summer Olympics in 2008 and then having a grade school physical education teacher notice her innate ability.
“I couldn’t tell but a lot of people told me I was naturally gifted at it,” De Jesus recalled. “My uncle taught me cartwheels and forward rolls and it didn’t take a lot of effort for me to do it. For most people it takes a while to do a cartwheel, with the whole balance thing on your hands, but for me it was never an issue. Gymnastics has always just come naturally for me. Me and gymnastics really clicked. I love the sport, I love flipping around, I have so much energy. It’s where I take all my energy out.”
What gymnastics coaches would see as a fault made De Jesus a favorite with her classmates. There was no elitist attitude. De Jesus loved basketball and played in junior high school — until she broke both pinkies.
She focused solely on gymnastics and quickly climbed up the ranks. She reached level 7 and it took her two weeks to get to 8. By the 7th grade she reached 9, but then, she said, suffered the first struggle in her advancement.
“I wanted to hang out with my friends and be like everyone else in school, and then I realized how much it could help me in the future,” De Jesus said. “That’s when I got myself together.”
But being the only level 10 gymnast brought De Jesus a sense of isolation with her team. And once she reached high school, she realized gymnastics was a major component of her life but she didn’t want it to be the sole one.
So De Jesus made what would be considered another unconventional decision for an athlete in a specialized sport. As a freshman she joined the Greenwich volleyball team. Her mother was a former player in Puerto Rico.
“I had never played before,” De Jesus said. “My mom always taught me a little bit about volleyball but I didn’t know the positions or how it worked until freshman year. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Volleyball is different than gymnastics but gymnastics has kind of helped me more with volleyball, reaction-wise. I can get the ball up, run to the ball. I love volleyball. It’s a whole different rush than gymnastics.”
De Jesus only spends the fall season playing volleyball. She is back to three-hour gymnastic practices, five days a week. She is fully committed to spending time with the Cardinals and is not just a gun for hire, showing up only at meets.
Other club coaches would probably consider De Jesus something of a renegade, perhaps even forcing her into a choice she admitted would be difficult.
“I don’t know private teams that let gymnasts do high school,” De Jesus said. “My coach tried to dissuade me and my mom said I want her to live her life. He was pretty upset with me at first and then realized I was good at managing my time efficiently with high school and his team. He’s been lenient about being late to practice because I am late a lot of the times because of meets and practice.”
Asked what she would have done if forced into a decision, De Jesus said, “I wouldn’t have left, but I wouldn’t have made it easy to get away with. It’s easier to go to a private gym.”
The Cardinals are thrilled to have De Jesus, as much for her infectious personality as her ability to deliver winning routines.
De Jesus said she gets as much if not more in return.
“Gymnastics is an individual sport and a team sport, but I feel for Greenwich it is more a team sport than an individual and my club team is more individual,” De Jesus said. “All the girls thank me for everything that I’ve done for the team and being there for them, but I tell them they don’t need to thank me, I want to do this just as much as they do. I don’t want to do it because I can bring them to an FCIAC title or a state title. They contribute a lot to the team, as much as I do.”
De Jesus is getting a lot of Division I looks. Maryland and West Virginia have demonstrated the most interest. De Jesus will compete at the Junior Olympics in March. She hopes she might make a verbal commitment soon after.
Right now, De Jesus is focused on Saturday’s FCIAC championships, and a second straight team win she said would supersede all her individual medals.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I definitely think we can get the title again and there’s been so much unexpected competition. Trumbull is good. We’re definitely going to fight and I am pretty confident we are going to get that title again.”