a person on a balance beam doing a trick
Gymnast Mia Puig, a 14-year-old Key West native, ranks 24th in the country in her age group in the 2024 National Championships, which took place May 9-12 in Daytona Beach. CONTRIBUTED

My phone kept suggesting I rotate the photos for this story, clearly “thinking” the images were upside down. But the images were correct. 

The subject was upside down. And sideways. And airborne, defying gravity, which always seems to win its war with me. Always.

I fall on wide, flat sidewalks. I fall walking UP stairs more often than any adult should.

And yet, the law of gravity doesn’t seem to apply to gymnast Mia Puig, the 14-year-old Key West native who ranked 24th in the country earlier this month in the national championships in Daytona Beach. 

“Mia is a Level 10 gymnast, which is nearly equivalent to the college level,” her mother, Myra Puig, told the Keys Weekly on May 28, three years after the Keys Weekly featured Mia in a story about her aspirations. “At Level 10, the goal is always to make it to nationals, which Mia did this year. And she did it after having knee surgery and pulling back from competition for more than a year.”

The United States is divided into eight regions for the national competition, with each region sending the top eight gymnasts in each age group to the nationwide meet, which this year took place May 9-12. Puig represented Region 8, which includes Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

She placed 24th at nationals, competing in the balance beam, floor, uneven bars and vault — and college recruiters have been paying attention. Although they’re not allowed to speak directly to Mia for another two years, some college coaches follow her on Instagram @miapuig2028 and several coaches and scouts attend the national competition.

But before college, Mia is looking at international possibilities.

“My love for the sport has just continued to grow as I’ve learned more and harder skills,” Mia said. “It can be tough balancing school and training, but I’m still getting good grades.”

“She qualifies for dual citizenship in Jamaica, where her great-grandfather was born,” Myra Puig said. “Jamaica recognizes dual citizenship for descendants down to the great-grandchild level. So we’ve applied for her dual citizenship in Jamaica.”

Once the paperwork comes through — it’s been “processing” through government bureaucracy for 18 months — Mia would be eligible to try out for the Jamaican national team, a goal that seems reachable, based on her talents and commitment, her mom said.

“If she doesn’t make the U.S. national team, then she could perhaps compete for Jamaica in the Olympics,” Myra Puig said. “And in her mind, Mia is still and always will be a Conch, so she would be beyond honored to represent the Caribbean in the Olympics. She’s an island girl at heart.”

Mia discovered her love of gymnastics when she was 4 years old watching a tumbling demonstration at a Children’s Day event in Bayview Park the Sunday after Fantasy Fest. 

“It’s her birthright to utilize her dual citizenship in Jamaica, and I’ve traveled there four times to check on the application, jumping through hoops. We just need them to make the paperwork happen. She would be a great asset to the country’s national gymnastics team, and she and they have already missed several great opportunities to compete there while we’ve been waiting.”

But the 14-year-old, who will start high school as a virtual student in the fall, isn’t just sitting around waiting for a government office in Jamaica to make something happen. She’ll continue competing at the elite level under the coaches she’s had at International Gymnastics in Miami since she was 6. 

Her coaches, Yanelda and Fernando Veliz, who coached Cuba’s national gymnastics team, have become the Puigs’ extended family, even coming home with them to the Keys to stay with Myra’s brother, Bill Lay and his wife, Amy, (Mia’s uncle and aunt), who own Key West’s La Trattoria, Virgilio’s martini bar, La Trattoria Oceanside and Catered Affairs of Key West catering company. 

“My niece will fill your heart with all the good that’s in the world,” Bill Lay told the Keys Weekly. “She’s a giant flow of positivity wrapped up in a small package.”

Mia Puig had similar sentiments about her “Tio, Tia and Titi” (cousin Vianca, Bill Lay’s daughter).

“I’m so grateful for their support and the sacrifices my whole family has made. I just hope to make them and all of Key West proud.”

Mandy Miles
Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.