Nia Dennis is paving her own way in the world of gymnastics, but that doesn't mean that the University of California, Los Angeles athlete doesn't look to other athletes for inspiration.
In an interview with PEOPLE this week, Dennis, 21, says that history-making Olympian Gabby Douglas has inspired her, not only as a gymnast but as a groundbreaking Black female athlete.
"Gabby Douglas … She's the bomb. I actually trained with her back in 2014, 2015. So, we're good friends and literally, she was one of my idols," Dennis tells PEOPLE.
Like Dennis — who recently went viral (once again) for her high-energy competition routine — Douglas helped to inspire a generation of young female athletes when she became the first American gymnast to win solo and team all-around gold medals in one Olympic Games.
The "Fierce Five" member clinched team gold at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio after taking home two gold medals in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
"Representation is so important. One out of the five girls that went to the Olympics that year, she was the only black gymnast and that's incredible to see," Dennis says of Douglas. "Then to have her training with me is like, 'Wow, that's insane. Literally love you.' "
Praising the 25-year-old gymnast for her positive energy on and off the mat, Dennis says: "And she's so sweet, such a good woman, good human, good morals, good values. She was just so positive and uplifting — gave me advice and I gave her advice any way I could. It was like a unity when we started training together."
Despite being fierce competitors and wanting to stand out on their own, Dennis explains that there was never any "envy" or bad blood between the gymnasts — in fact, the UCLA athlete explains how much she admires Douglas for helping her be the best that she can be.
"It wasn't like an envy thing like, 'Oh, she made it to the Olympics, I didn't.' She's a Black woman doing this story. She can do it, I can also do it," Dennis says, adding, "She's over here helping me and now I'm going to help my younger teammate that's also trying to be the same thing … even if she's two, three years younger. It still doesn't matter. Now I'm going to spread the knowledge that Gabby gave to me to her and that's kind of what was really most impactful to me."
Last month, Dennis broke the internet for a second time after her eye-catching floor routine went viral during her team's season-opener competition against Arizona State University.
The sensational routine — which featured a mashup of songs by artists including Kendrick Lamar, Tupac Shakur, Beyoncé, Missy Elliott, Megan Thee Stallion, and Soulja Boy — helped a sparkling Dennis clinch her school's victory.
And while the senior is always excited about a win, the athlete also looks forward to using her unique talents and platform to educate fans about Black culture.
"There's not a lot of Black gymnasts so representation is very important and I wanted to bring the Black culture to the sport of gymnastics, especially given the reach that UCLA gymnastics gets in our platform," she explains. "I definitely wanted to capitalize and use it and really get the message that Black Lives Matter across."
The gymnast feels she's working as an activist in her own way, while also having fun showing off her personality to the world on the mat.
"This routine is a reflection of everything that I am as a woman today. I'm still finding myself, but currently, this is where I am," she tells PEOPLE.
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