Sunny Choi is ready to break her way into Olympic history, interview

Sunny Choi for the Incredible Egg
Sunny Choi for the Incredible Egg / Incredible Egg

As Team USA prepares for the Paris Olympics, Sunny Choi appreciates that a few rules can be broken on the way to standing atop the podium. From being the first female breakdancer to forging her own path, Choi appreciates that the incredible opportunity is fueled by shattering a few rules along the way. Luckily, she has found the recipe to success both in and out of the kitchen.

When the Olympics announced that breakdancing would debut at the Paris Games, many people wondered how this rhythmic, athletic expression fit in with traditional sports like swimming or track and field. Like many other athletes who broke the mold for their own athletic pursuits, the Team USA breakdancing team wants to impress the world with their skills.

One of the athletes leading the way is Sunny Choi. At 35, she might be considered more mature than other sports’ athletes. Throughout her career, her goals have been more than just achieving her dreams. Choi appreciates that her decisions broke down barriers and redefined the concept of a female athlete.

Recently, Choi partnered with the Incredible Egg to highlight not only her story but to give some insight on her food choices that fuel the day. As everyone can appreciate, protein rich, nutritionally dense, and delicious food is vital to not only maintaining athletic achievement but also to have a well-rounded healthy eating lifestyle.

Through her partnership with the Incredible Egg and their campaign, “Meant to Be Broken,” which encourages everyone to embrace their authenticity and boldly “break” through to new possibilities, Choi spoke to me about her role on Team USA, what new fans of breakdancing should understand, and a few recipes that she uses to fuel her day.

Cristine Struble: Is it the first time that breakdancing will be in the Olympics? What does it mean for you to represent Team USA?

Sunny Choi: Yes, this is the first time breaking will be in the Olympics – it’s our debut, which is really exciting! To be honest, representing Team USA was really hard for me at first because I didn’t really know what it meant. This process has taught me the power of sport, the power of what we do and how people come together under this umbrella of sport and unity. While we’re divided in so many other areas of our lives, we all come together for Team USA in the Olympics. Feeling that energy is really amazing and I’m extremely grateful and proud to represent Team USA. It’s about representing New York City, my communities, Asian-Americans and more. It’s really an honor to be able to do this.

CS: For some people, it might be their first time watching this sport. What are some ideas or concepts that they should look for?

SC: I’ll start with a quick rundown of breaking. We battle head-to-head, where one person goes, then the other person goes, and we go back-to-back a couple times before the judges will vote. Breaking is really a form of self-expression – it’s not just a sport, but it’s also an art form and dance. A lot of us are freestyling, so we lay it all out there without knowing what the music is going to be. For people watching, I would recommend being in the moment and enjoying it. You don’t need to watch for specific things, but just have fun, connect with people, cheer for your favorites and have a good time! One of the special things about breaking is it’s like a party – we have a DJ, an MC, music and dancing. I just want people to have fun when they’re watching.

CS: What is your training like? Do you have certain foods that help fuel your progress? A favorite recipe or maybe a good luck food to eat before a competition?

SC: Training for something like the Olympics, especially for breakers, is very new. For the physical piece of training, I see a strength and conditioning coach several times a week, I dance, I go to training, I do hot vinyasa and I do a lot of recovery work. There’s also the mental piece, where I see a therapist to work on my mental health and sports psychology. 

I think one of the things that’s giving me a competitive edge is food. I’m careful about what I put into my body because I know that what you put in is what you’re going to get out. Some people tend to overlook the fueling part of food, and for some younger athletes, it’s a little easier to get away with not eating the cleanest diet. For me, it’s about making sure I’m getting enough protein, eating variety of foods and getting all my nutrients in. That’s why my partnership with the  Incredible Egg is perfect – because food is so important to me.

I have a lot of favorite recipes, but one of my go-to’s when I’m low on protein for the day is frying up three eggs in a little bit of sesame oil. This recipe reminds me of my mom because she often cooks with sesame oil at home. When I started making myself eggs as an adult to get a quick protein boost, I realized that my mom’s eggs always tasted different because she used sesame oil instead of olive oil! I also recently published a Custard Freeze recipe with the Incredible Egg on my Instagram. It’s one of those treats that I make myself because every athlete needs to fuel their cravings.

CS: Some of your moves that we’ve seen on social media look precarious or even a little scary. How do you let go of your fears or worries and just let the music and moment take over?

SC: There’s no easy answer because it’s taken me over 15 years to figure that out and I’m still figuring it out. Initially, I was really scared to let go of control and that’s something that’s hard for everyone to do in our lives. I’m definitely a control freak and I like everything to be perfect, but there’s nothing perfect in breaking. There’s no perfection, there’s no standard for perfection and there’s no perfect way to do a move – you just have to go and do it. The beauty of breaking is that because there’s no perfect, the best thing you can do is just be you. That was really challenging for me for a long time but little by little, I’m learning to be in the moment. When you’re in the moment, you stop trying to control everything around you.

CS: The new Incredible Egg campaign has the tagline “Meant to Be Broken.” What does that concept mean to you and how do you apply that sentiment to your outlook on life?

SC: The first thing that always comes to mind when I hear “Meant to Be Broken” is about breaking the norm, breaking out of the box and breaking expectations. This speaks to me because I spent much of my life doing exactly what I was supposed to do. I checked all the boxes, including going to an Ivy League school, getting good grades, working in corporate so I can have financial stability, and having intentions of buying a home and having a family. Breaking was always something I did as a hobby, but I knew it was a passion and I always knew I wanted to give back to my community. Breaking has given me the opportunity to break out of the mold, choose myself and what makes me happy, and pursue a path that isn’t super traditional. The “Meant to Be Broken” tagline connects to the way I have changed everything in my life to pursue my passion and give back to my community.

CS: Besides eating eggs, what are some other foods and/or experiences that you’d like to have or do while in Paris for the Olympics?

SC: Eating is a really big one for me, so obviously I’m going go out there and have some good food! My whole family will also be in Paris, so I’m really excited to explore the city with them. One of my nieces has Paris food plans and is dedicating a day to only eating bread! I’m looking forward to visiting some of her favorite spots and spending quality time with my family. We’re all over the place and we don’t get to see each other very often so it’s really special that we get to come together for this.

As everyone watches the Paris Olympics, the message learned from these athletes and their journey is more than success in the moment. Their pride, determination, and willingness to break the mold encourages others to take the chance, embrace the opportunity, and live life to the fullness. Ready to break into your incredible moment?