It's right there, between the handsprings and the twists and the diagonal runs across the floor. They are mixed in among the somersaults and round-offs.

At one point, Mya Hooten covers her mouth, as if her voice cannot be heard. In another moment, she's pushing away racism. Then the Gophers gymnast bends over with her wrists behind her back, as if she's being arrested.

In the background, Beyonce's hit song "Freedom" plays over the sound system. Hooten's melding of the social justice elements and her grace are accentuated by this song and its powerful lyrics.


Where are you?

'Cause I need freedom, too

I break chains all by myself

Won't let my freedom rot in hell

Hey! I'ma keep running

'Cause a winner don't quit on themselves

The routine includes punches, as she fights back. She pumps a fist in the air, showing all that she's proud to be Black. And she finishes her routine by resting an imaginary crown on her head, her staple move she carried over from last season.

Mixed in with the message is the aerial excellence of an ascending star for the Gophers gymnastics team. Hooten's routine is in response to the recent deaths of Black men at the hands of local police officers and the resulting social justice debate it has caused. Through it, the sophomore's gifts as a gymnast also shine.

Hooten's routine has gotten her three perfect 10.00 scores this season, giving her four for her collegiate career. She's the only Gophers gymnast in the program's history to receive perfect scores in floor exercise. Videos of her routines show that audiences at Maturi Pavilion were hopping.

"I didn't know it was going to blow up like it did," Hooten said this week.

Many watching probably don't know the message behind her movements. Fan support and cheering were simply a response to a well-executed routine that included well-intentioned statements about current events and society. Her phone lit up and her Twitter feed sizzled after she started posting 10s. Gymnasts from other programs retweeted her routine. So did Vikings running back C.J. Ham, who brought his family to a meet.

Gophers assistant coach Geralen Stack-Eaton approached Hooten with the idea after Hooten got the go-ahead to revamp her floor exercise routine for this season. Performing to a Beyonce song was a no-brainer. It was up to them to come up with the right moves.

"We knew we wanted to make my routine a message for people," said Hooten, who is from Woodbury and attended Tartan and Chanhassen high schools before joining the Gophers. "I wanted people to watch it and go, 'Oh, that's powerful.' So we were working in the gym and figured out some cool moves."

We are in the age in which speaking up is encouraged. It is understandable if younger people aren't comfortable with taking a hard stance on polarizing topics. That has not been a problem for Hooten, who has seen Minneapolis in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent years and wanted to address it through her floor routine.

She said she had been emboldened by heartfelt and sometimes emotional conversations with teammates about current events as they learned more about themselves and one another.

"It crossed our minds that there may be people who weren't a fan of it," Hooten's mother, Kari Conroy, said. "But she is strong in what she stands for. And to be like that at her age, to realize that, 'I can put a message out there through this' — she succeeded."

Hooten chatted during an off day on Tuesday at the Land O'Lakes Center for Excellence before the team traveled to Ohio State for the Big Ten championships on Saturday. The NCAA regionals begin March 30, with the national championships starting April 14 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Hooten has a chance to spread her message to a wider audience while competing among top gymnasts across the country. She's proud she created such a memorable routine, but she's still getting used to the attention it brings.

"It can be overwhelming sometimes because I'm not used to it," Hooten said, "but it's fun. It's good."