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Omaha Magazine

Senior Elite Gymnast Lexi Zeiss

Apr 05, 2021 04:50PM ● By Tamsen Butler and Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
Lexi Zeiss holds bar in white leotard

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Many Olympics fans know the names of gymnastics medalists Shawn Johnson and Simone Biles. One day, perhaps, they will also add the name Lexi Zeiss to that repertoire. Zeiss is a Senior Elite gymnast and an honors student at Westside High School when not balancing on a beam or tumbling on a mat. She’s the second gymnast to earn the designation of Elite Gymnast in Nebraska.

Lexi rolls facefirst into any challenge. “You’re going to fall more than you’re going to fly,” she said with a shrug, seemingly unaware of the profound maturity of her statement. “Hard work takes no talent.”

She first started rolling at age 2, when she took a mom-and-tot class at a local gym. Her mother, Dana, and father, Jess, were athletes at Doane College (basketball and baseball, respectively), and thought it would be a good idea to get their only child into gymnastics at a young age to help with coordination and flexibility, thinking she would move into other sports later. At age 10, her parents switched her to Omaha Gymnastics Academy when they realized gymnastics was her true passion.

“She stood out right away,” coach Kelley Green said. “She is talented, but more than that, she has such a powerful drive to succeed at whatever she does.”

Lexi also played soccer from age 4 until she fully committed to gymnastics four years ago.

"Her parents talked with me about her goal to be an Elite gymnast,” Green said. “I thought she might have what it takes, so I took her to a camp to get her in front of some of the national gymnastics staff. I love taking her to camps, because her attitude is infectious. She is always excited to work towards her goals.” 

Once at the camp, Lexi knew she had found her niche. “The camp was grueling,” Green continued. “There were three practices every day, and each practice was three hours long…At the end of the camp, one of the national staff confirmed my belief that she had something special. She told me to try for Elite with her, and to not give up on her. So we decided to go for it.”

That meant hours of training, and the support of Team Zeiss, which includes coaches, a sports psychologist, a dietician, a strength and conditioning coach, a physical therapist, teammates, understanding friends, and a school district willing to work with the unique challenges that come with having a student who is also an Elite athlete.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

In order to get to the Elite level, a gymnast must pass the Elite compulsory and optional qualifiers. In compulsory qualifiers, gymnasts complete a basic routine designed by organizers to demonstrate that the gymnast has basic skills such as handsprings, jumps, and more. In Elite optionals, the gymnast is evaluated for advanced skills such as complex dismounts and twisting vaults.

On Feb. 7, 2020, she achieved Junior Elite status with the Brestyan’s National Elite Qualifier in Las Vegas. This gave her access to the American Classic and U.S. Classic competitions, which were canceled in 2020.

“I heard a saying once that when you go after your passion with your whole heart, the universe conspires to help you achieve it. I think it may be true,” Green said. 

Passion she has, as she spends around 30 hours a week training. It has paid off. On Jan. 16, 2021, she qualified to go to the Nastia Liukin Cup in Indianapolis by earning the highest scores at the Chows Winter Classic in Des Moines. Only 18 Level-10 gymnasts across the U.S. are invited to the Nastia Liukin Cup. Lexi should not have been able to qualify. Level 10 is the highest a gymnast can achieve before making Elite status, but because she never competed as an Elite last year due to COVID-19, she was able to compete as a Level 10. The Nastia Liukin Cup was televised Feb. 26 on NBCSN.   

  Lexi’s next week brought even more excitement. She qualified as a Senior Elite on Jan. 22, 2021, at the Biles International Invitational and Elite Qualifier in Houston, Texas. The national team is made up of qualified Senior Elites. Lexi will likely be one of the youngest people on the mat this year. Because she was born in 2005, she qualifies for the 16-and-up division, but will not turn 16 until Nov. 4.

A typical weekday day for Lexi means being awake at 6:45 a.m. and at school by 7:30 a.m. She attends two classes at Westside High—honors math and honors English—then goes home for lunch and leaves the house for gymnastics training. She finishes training around 8 p.m. and goes to bed by 9:30 p.m. She spends her Saturdays in the gym.

Her fellow gymnasts are all homeschooled, but Jess and Dana want Lexi to be herself first and a gymnast second. Four years ago, they approached then-
superintendent Blane McCann, and worked out a half-day schedule for Lexi, attending morning classes in person and afternoon classes online. Mike Lucas has continued with this plan. 

“They are such a valuable part of this team,” Dana said of the Westside staff. Lexi, specifically, wanted to thank her teammates and her school for their support.

“She is the only Elite gymnast I know that doesn’t homeschool, and Westside School District made that possible. I’m thrilled that she gets to keep going to school, maintaining those friendships, and be a normal kid every day,” Green said.

This “normal kid” believes anyone can achieve their dreams: “Work hard every day and great things will happen.”

This article originally appeared in the 2021 edition of Family Guide

Photo by Bill Sitzmann