23 Feb Winter Cup Spotlight! Lexi Zeiss – Learning to be Successful and Loving It! | Inside Gymnastics
After a huge 2022, Lexi Zeiss is looking ahead to an incredible 2023! On Saturday in Louisville, she’ll kick off her 2023 season at Winter Cup. We sat down with Lexi after Worlds to learn what she learned and what’s in store for the exciting road ahead!
Original feature appeared in the February 2023 issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine. Enjoy this extended version!
From the 2021 Winter Cup where she made her Elite debut placing 11th All-Around, all the way to the 2022 Pan American Championships where she captured silver with Team USA and a surprise silver in the All-Around as well as a bronze on beam, to a berth on the Worlds team as an alternate, Twin City Twisters’ Lexi Zeiss has gracefully kept everything in perspective.
She’s extremely grounded and has discovered a new-found confidence in herself, thanks in large part to her supportive coaches and family. Quite frankly, she’s a joy to be around and chat with. Open, free (she was super comfortable with the press in Liverpool), and enthusiastic, Lexi truly loves her sport and all of the opportunities 2022 presented. She also hasn’t let the pressure enter the picture too much. In a year where her goal was simply to make an international assignment, Lexi Zeiss landed two. And medaled. It was icing on the cake and a clear indication of just how much believing in yourself can change the trajectory of a career.
Voted Inside Gymnastics’ “Gymnast You Think Will Be Breakout Star in 2023” in our 2022 Readers’ Choice Poll, we’re excited to follow Lexi’s journey (she’s verbally committed to LSU for 2024) this year and beyond!
Were you able to take a minute once you arrived home from Liverpool to reflect on the year?
The week I came home from Worlds, I went back to Nebraska, saw all my friends, all my family. Having the medal in my backpack – it was such a cool experience to bring back! It almost just didn’t feel real while we were there! And then the gym did a really fun welcome home party – seeing the big poster with my name on it with ‘World Champion’ was just unbelievable and something I dreamed of for a long time!
At Pan Ams, you competed not just as a member of Team USA, you came home an individual medalist. Did you feel like you were going above and beyond the goals you set for yourself?
For sure. At the beginning of the season, I was still learning where I needed to be to be successful. Sarah (Jantzi) and all the coaching staff at TCT really helped me figure that out and learn about myself and where I needed to be to compete at my best. Because in training I was looking so good and I just needed to learn to trust my gymnastics [in competition]. A big thing on my list was just an international assignment, and it was so unbelievably cool to get that. And especially to have Elle (Mueller) with me and get to experience it with Sarah, was just so much fun.
Going in [to Pan Ams], I told Sarah, ‘If I’m going to do one event, I’m going to do one event. If I’m going to do All-Around, I’m going to do All-Around. But I’m going to do what’s best for my team, what’s best for the country, and help us do what we were there to do.’ I didn’t care what I was competing, I was going to do it to the best of my ability. Getting to see ‘USA’ on my hip and the flag on our leo was a reminder of why I was there. I wasn’t there for myself. I was there for the team.
And so you were there, not just as a member of the team, but you came home a medalist. Did you feel again, like you were just going above and beyond the goals that you set for yourself?
For sure. Going in, I told Sarah, ‘if I’m going to do one event, I’m going to do one event. If I’m going to do All-Around, I’m going to do All-Around. But I’m going to do what’s best for my team, what’s best for the country, and help us do what we were there to do.’ I didn’t care what I was competing, I was going to do it to the best of my ability. Obviously I got to compete All-Around, and I capitalized on what I was given. But it was all about the team. Getting to see ‘USA’ on my hip and the flag on our leo was a reminder of why I was there. I wasn’t there for myself. I was there for the team.
What did you learn from your teammates through that experience at Pan Ams? You’re suddenly competing with women who have World Championship and international experience, Kayla DiCello was an alternate for Tokyo and World All-Around bronze medalist in 2021…
They just were really helpful in the way of just carrying ourselves as Team USA and just remembering to have fun. Because you don’t do this to stress yourself out. You do this to have fun and reach goals that you didn’t think were possible as a little girl! I think they’re just good role models to show that you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it. And they’re just so helpful along the way, managing just the whole situation because it was very new for me!
Going from being a possible contender for a team to winning several medals, you’re suddenly on everybody’s radar. Talk me through Championships, World Trials, and then ultimately being named an alternate for the World team…
Championships, I was not at my best both days. The Friday morning before we competed, I whacked my knee pretty hard, and I was in a little bit of pain. Sarah told me, ‘If you don’t think you can do it, let’s rest and just do day two.’ But this had been my goal as a child. I knew I could do it. It’s five minutes of pain for this childhood dream that I know I can do. We took some stuff out and we just tried to manage day one so I could be within striking distance. And then day two, we let everything loose because I was feeling a lot better.
When I was invited to World Trials, Sarah told me, ‘It’s your decision. You have a really good chance to do this, but I want you to make the decision. Just come back and let me know.’ I was like, ‘I don’t need to come back. Let’s do this!’ If I made the team, great, but ultimately going in, I just wanted to be an alternate. I’m so young, and all those girls were at Olympic Trials, so for me to even be with them was just an honor.
Being part of a team with Olympic medalists, and Jade Carey who’s a gold medalist, talk about how the team bonded, and ultimately how you all felt winning that team gold together.
We were together for around three weeks, just like all together! So it was just spending time getting to know each other. And the first couple of nights in Cheshire, we had like this little restaurant where we ate every night and we had our table. Just being together all the time and getting to know what each person needed in that moment. And that was my job. I made sure to figure out from them what they needed from me on the floor just because I knew I was going to be there and some of their coaches weren’t going to be down there. I just really wanted to be there to help them do their best. So we definitely got really close by the end. We hung out all the time, had a pizza party after we won, like just tons of fun stuff we did!
I loved seeing everything you all were doing outside of the competition in Liverpool. Talk a little bit about what you think is the importance of being able to take a breath and do something fun outside of the competition…
It’s hard to be in competition mode for so long. So having the day off to go shopping, walk around, to go look at the Beatles museum, to go just sit with your parents and have lunch, just to take your mind off of that and help you mentally reset. Chellsie (Memmel) was amazing and made sure to talk to us every morning and every lunch, every dinner, just to figure out where we were and what we needed because she wanted to know our input and wanted to know, ‘Do you feel tired?’ Do you want the day off tomorrow? Do you want a half day tomorrow? What are you thinking?’ [USA Gymnastics and our coaches] were very considerate and wanted everybody’s opinion. It was very important to them and us, which was just so amazing.
What have Chellsie, Alicia (Sacramone Quinn), and Dan Baker brought to the national team as far as your own experience?
I think they all bring something special to the team and they all have different insights on different events and they are super helpful. We’re able to get different corrections from each person – to hear different voices can sometimes be the difference between getting the new skill, and every coach knows that. I also think they just bring great strategies towards routine construction. We were still talking to Alicia when we were in Liverpool even though she wasn’t there. All three are so great and I’m happy they’re there with us.
You stood out in a very good way in the Mixed Zone after training and competition in Liverpool, in just being really comfortable doing media. Have you always been that confident in that particular role or is it something you’ve grown into?
I’m an only child, so I’m definitely around adults more than most kids, so I think I’ve learned through that. And also just as a young kid, I’ve done some podcasts and some media interviews through the news in Nebraska. I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable with it, for sure. I just like to be myself, have fun with it and just don’t act like someone I’m not. Just enjoy it.
Who are some of the athletes you were able to meet or get to know better while you were in Liverpool?
We were in Qualifications with Belgium and trained with them, and they were in our hotel, so we talked to them quite a bit, and they were awesome. It was so cool meeting Nina (Derwael)! And also the British team, we were with them on Team Finals day, so we were cheering for each other, having fun, laughing, just hugs and lots of fun times!
With all of these new experiences, how excited are you for 2023!? Did being an alternate for Worlds make you hungrier to make the team next year?
I couldn’t have imagined anything better. Of course I wanted to compete. No person doesn’t want to compete, but it was a great experience for me. I’m super young, so I’m excited just to work upgrades and get those new upgrades that I had already in routines, and just show off my new stuff and show that I’m still on the radar and I’m ready to go.
TCT has had amazing athletes come through their door. For you personally, what do you think your coaches have brought to your gymnastics?
I think the big thing for me to share was to clean up my gymnastics, get more comfortable with my gymnastics, and just understand my gymnastics. We have six coaches with us. TCT is a big family and you can count on every coach and every gymnast to have your back no matter what happens. I’m just thankful for my family. We’re up in Minnesota, we’re not from here, so for them to move up here for me to achieve my dreams and do what I did this year is just incredible. I’m thankful to all the coaching staff at TCT, they spend so much time with us and just love us like their own. It’s just an amazing atmosphere to be around up here.
Sounds like you’ve found the right balance in the right place! If you could pick one, do you have a favorite moment from competition in 2022?
I would say when we won gold at Worlds. Watching the board, we all knew in our hearts we were about to win, but we needed to see it. That whole celebration of us all screaming, Jordan (Chiles) crying and just being able to hug everybody was just such a surreal feeling. It was awesome!
You’re committed to LSU for NCAA gymnastics. Is that still the plan? And why LSU?
I had a lot of good offers and I loved talking to all the coaches. It was definitely a very hard decision for me, but ultimately, it was just where my heart was. There were a lot of tears through the process, just because I loved all the coaches and the places and I knew it was going to be a hard decision, but I just felt like my heart was there and that’s where I wanted to be.
I think you’ve inspired so many younger athletes with this very quick rise and what you’ve been able to accomplish. Is there anything else that you want to share with your fans as we start 2023 or anything that you think people would love to know about you that they don’t know?
Well, I want to be a dermatologist when I go to college, so that’s my ultimate goal through medical school! Obviously, everybody knows I’m originally from Nebraska, and I went to public high school until I moved up here, so Westside was my high school in Nebraska. I love them! They did so much for me and helped with my schedule, so I definitely would like to mention them because we’re definitely still part of the Warrior family, and we still talk to them all the time. So it’s been great!
Photos by Lloyd Smith and Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics
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