For Venezuela native Sofia Morón Márquez, the path to graduating from Florida Gulf Coast University began with her escape from what she characterized as “a country in chaos.” It also afforded her the chance to pursue a dream of competing internationally in karate and earning a college degree.
After graduating magna cum laude in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in integrated studies and a focus on exercise science, Morón Márquez has added one more dream to her list: She began work toward a master’s degree at Florida International University. Her online MBA program with a specialization in sports management – a partnership between European University of Madrid and global soccer superpower Real Madrid – brings together renowned sports leaders and executives and top faculty from across the globe. It prepares students to successfully manage institutions in fast-changing global environments, she said.
Morón Márquez started studying karate at age 4 with her mother as her coach. By 10, she was already representing Venezuela in international competitions including the Pan-American, European and World championships. But things began to change in her hometown of Lecheria, a coastal city on the northwestern coast where her father was police chief.
“Our beloved city, which once was a very peaceful town, became like a war zone: tear gas, gunshots, rocks, fires, army and state police,” Morón Márquez said. “My family quickly realized that the situation was terrible and sooner or later I would have to leave in order to remain safe. For months, I was like a prisoner in our apartment, not able to roam freely.”
Conditions deteriorated to the point that she fled Venezuela and moved to Miami in 2017. “I left first because of an injury that I needed to treat before the World Shotokan Karate Federation World Championship,” she said. “I started school in the United States but was thinking that I was going to go back home. But, because of political persecution in the country, my family and I decided to stay in the U.S.”
She soon found FGCU, enrolling in 2019. “FGCU reminds me of home because Lecheria is a beautiful town on the coast and FGCU has the same coastal vibe,” she said. “It helped me thrive because of all the exposure that I got meeting people from all around the U.S., as well as Latin Americans and Europeans. I learned that my goals and dreams should not have a geographic barrier.”
At FGCU, she compiled a lengthy resume. In addition to being a dean’s list student and scholarship recipient, Morón Márquez was a research consultant for the Exercise Is Medicine program, an American College of Sports Medicine initiative in partnership with FGCU’s Campus Recreation and Department of Rehabilitation Sciences; developed a youth karate program as a sports program intern with the YMCA Weston Family Center; and completed an exercise science internship at a training camp offered by Juventus, a premier soccer club.
She also worked at the University Wellness and Recreation Center as a program assistant and group fitness instructor and served on the center’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee; assisted in program development at two soccer academies; and coached at seven karate schools.
Morón Márquez attributes her ability to juggle studies, work and experiential learning to discipline and habits developed from her karate training.
“Karate allowed me to become a good citizen and strengthen the values I learned at home. When learning karate, I not only learned self-defense, but the practices of self-esteem and confidence that are core values that I have had when achieving my goals,” she said.
“When I moved to the U.S., I did not speak English well. Karate and other sports allowed me to fit in and adapt to a new culture because they are a universal language that allowed me to show that actions speak louder than words, to make friends and, little by little, to not just fit in but actually thrive,” she said.
Patricia Bauer, assistant professor of rehabilitation sciences, is one of Morón Márquez’s biggest fans.
“Sofia is a very vibrant and dedicated student. She always put her whole effort into learning, whether it be group or individual assignments, exams or practical laboratory skill work. She is personable with everyone and a wonderful representative of an FGCU graduate,” Bauer said.
With her degree now in hand, Morón Márquez reflected on her journey so far and her future in international karate competition.
“Today, I can see more clearly the meaning of living a dream: freedom to follow what you love without fear. Now as I work hard, I have my next dream – standing on the podium holding my first medal with the U.S. flag proudly behind me, but always with the Venezuelan flag on my heart.”