Summer de la Cruz: Maryland Native, Olympic Weightlifter and Gymnast


De la Cruz poses for a quick snap.

By Gloria Kosir, Feature's Editor

Her eyes focus on the wall in front of her, her forehead beading with sweat. A small drop rolls down her eyebrow and narrowly misses her eye, violently shaken to the ground when freshman Summer de la Cruz sets a new personal record in Olympic weightlifting. The weights hit the ground as she celebrates in a mask, not even letting a pandemic stop her from reaching her goals. She goes home, proud and exhausted, to study for her challenging classes and review for her Zooms the next day.

De la Cruz has been competing in Olympic weightlifting competitions for four years, and she really has her sister to thank for it.

Once I got to sixth grade, my little sister had to transition to a contact-free sport, and we had to strengthen her legs so I suggested Olympic weight lifting, and then eventually I went over there too to try it,” de la Cruz said. Her parents were already involved in CrossFit at the time and knew of the sport, so it felt very natural for the athletic family to get involved.

Olympic weight training is a little different than powerlifting. The former consists of two moves, the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk.” They’re dynamic moves that incorporate both upper and lower body, and de la Cruz is steadily mastering both of them.

When you’re at the national level, you have a bunch of local gyms with your coaches, and your main goal is to do really well at nationals… For me personally, I would like to see how far I could take it,” de la Cruz said.

She originally began lifting in Maryland, where she grew up. “I lived there for like nine years of my life and we moved around a bit in Maryland. Then in seventh grade I moved to South Korea for a year and I attended school on the army base, and then I moved back to Maryland but in a different spot again,” de la Cruz said. 

She spent one year in South Korea living just off a military base. She went to an English-speaking middle school and made hundreds of new memories and realizations.

“It’s much much safer over there; they have a lot of surveillance and stuff, and it’s just a different environment over here because I guess people just don’t trust the surveillance of the government as much as they do over there,” de la Cruz said when asked about the main differences she noticed between the U.S. and South Korea. “It was definitely a big culture shock, or even just being able to go on the train by myself and my parents felt completely comfortable.”

Before moving to South Korea or even starting Olympic weightlifting, de la Cruz took gymnastics lessons. When she was around seven years old she joined a gym where she was taught the basics of the sport. “I started doing competitive gymnastics when I was in third grade… and I went there from third to sixth grade where I really built up my skills and stuff over the years,” de la Cruz said.

Safety and surveillance weren’t the only big cultural changes that she noticed, though. Gymnastics in South Korea is very different than in America, according to de la Cruz.

“Even the experience of gymnastics there was different since in America there are levels, especially if you go to club gymnastics, but over there everyone just practices on the same level and then depending on how high your skills are they’ll put you in a competition at that level. It was definitely interesting,” de la Cruz said. Since she’s been back living in the states, she’s been working on regaining lost skills and picking up new ones.

De la Cruz is on Niles West’s girls’ gymnastics team and is an amazing asset. Aside from her advanced skills, her energy is infectious and pushes the other girls to be better and have fun while doing it.

“Her form is absolutely insane which will be really helpful when she starts upgrading throughout her high school career. She brings a positive uplifting attitude into the gym and is always willing to help out other teammates,” junior Leighla Sedghi, one of de la Cruz’s teammates, said.

De la Cruz’s Olympic weightlifting has proved to be a great benefit for her in the gymnastics world as well. The strength that she builds from competing and training helps her tumbling and confidence. “When I was in gymnastics from third to sixth grade, and even seventh grade too, I had a really hard time not beating myself up over every little mistake, but gradually with some help from other people, I’ve learned to stop doing that, and I think weightlifting helped contribute to that process because it exposed me more to competition. It’s a different environment than the gymnastics competition,” de la Cruz said.

Moving from Maryland to Illinois might come across as a huge jump, but for de la Cruz’s family it was actually very instinctive. Her parents were both students at Niles West and in the graduating class of 1998.

“My mom lived in a house that’s like ten houses down from where I am right now, and my uncles live there right now so it’s stayed in the family ever since from when they moved into that house, which is pretty interesting,” de la Cruz said. 

De la Cruz has done a great job adapting to not only a new school but also a completely online environment. One of her new friends, freshman Gabriel Mandal, is impressed with her adjusting nature. “Summer is always in a good mood and is very fun to hang out with! She also is a very smart and hard worker,” Mandal said. From her strength in class to the gym, de la Cruz stands as a role model for many, constantly conquering and making large strides to first place.