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Omaha Native and Gymnast Lexi Zeiss Competes For Spot On U.S. Team, KIOS’ Greg Echlin Has The Story

LEXI ZEISS, USA - AG, Pan Rio 22, Jul17
USA - Artistic Gymnastics | Gymnastics Pan American Championships Rio22 | Jul17 | Arena Carioca 1, Olympic Park, Rio de Janeirio, Brazil | Photo: Ricardo Bufolin / USAGYM

Below is the transcript for the Greg Echlin Story on Omaha Native and Gymnast Lexi Zeiss:

Gymnast Lexi Zeiss, an Omaha native who has propelled herself into the national spotlight, is in Houston the next three days <Oct. 20-22> for the World Team Selection Camp. Greg Echlin has more for Omaha Public Radio…

Lexi Zeiss is among a handful of elite gymnasts competing against each other in an effort to be selected for the USA team that will travel to Liverpool, England, later this month. That’s where the world championships will take place, and the 2024 Olympic games are not far off…

<<{Sarah Jantze: I feel like Lexi right now is in her best shape physically, mentally that she’s been in all year long.}>>:08

That’s Sarah Jantzi, who coaches the 16-year old Zeiss at a gym called the Twin City Twisters outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of the most reputable gyms in the country. Zeiss stood out at this summer’s Pan Am games in Brazil where she won a silver medal in all-around competition. Zeiss might be considered a longshot to the make the USA team this weekend, but…

<<{Lexi Zeiss: We’ll just see. I’m still really young, so I’ve got a couple years. I put myself on the map after Pan Ams, so we’ll see what I can do.}>>:08

How did she—as Zeiss puts it—put herself on the map?

<<{Nat. sound of OGA}>>

It started when Zeiss was 9 at the Omaha Gymnastics Academy in Papillion. Kelley Green, the program director for elite gymnasts at OGA, says Zeiss didn’t blow away the instructors with her talent. But there was something else that Green picked up on…

<<{Kelley Green: You could tell that she was absolutely obsessed with gymnastics and wanted to work so hard. Wanted to perfect everything that she was doing.}>>:11

Lexi Zeiss is the daughter of Dana and Jess Zeiss, who said that Lexi set goals early on…

<<{Jess Zeiss: She wanted to be a Level 9 at a certain age. She wanted to be a Level 10. She wanted to be a state champion in this. I’m telling you that she has checked these boxes.}>>:10

The stage after Level 10 is Elite, the level in which Zeiss competes. She started at the Elite level at age 11, which is…believe it or not…considered to be late in gymnastics. After the pandemic put everything on hold, Zeiss resumed last year with some solid performances at national level events. But Kelley Green noticed that Zeiss wanted something that OGA didn’t have…

<<{Kelley Green: She wanted elite teammates. She wanted to look over in a gym next to her and see somebody doing what she’s doing. Or doing something bigger so that she can do bigger than that.}>>:10

Zeiss says the decision, an extremely difficult one, was all hers to train at another gym…

<<{Lexi Zeiss: Lots of tears. Lots of tears. It was a good couple days where I would just cry.}>>:04

It was a struggle between her emotional ties to OGA and the price she and her family would have to pay to train in Minnesota. From being around the sport, her parents also realized that, and asked themselves, “How are we going to do this?”…

<<{Jess Zeiss: Elite gymnastics is not easy. It’s expensive. You have to make way more sacrifices that I think people really understand at the beginning.}>>:10

Jess Zeiss says it boiled down to the same thing that Kelley Green saw when Lexi first started at OGA…

<<{Jess Zeiss: In all the years, and I swear to the Bible on this one, she has never, ever, ever one day said she didn’t want to go the gym.}>>:09

When Lexi Zeiss trains in Minnesota, Jess Zeiss, an investment banker, or a family member travels and stays there, too. Dana Zeiss, as a nurse practioner, remains back in Omaha…

<<{Dana Zeiss: I’m not going to lie. It was chaotic. We had to get a cadence down. Our family is amazing. There’s been times when neither of us could be there.}>>:08

The Zeiss family has somehow made it work and Lexi’s gymnastics career is ascending. From OGA, Kelley Green watched the summer’s Pan Am games with interest as her former trainee stood out on the international stage. Though Green felt blindsided by Lexi Zeiss’s decision to leave, she harbors no bitterness…

<<{Kelley Green: You spend so much time with a kid that I care more about her than her gymnastics. When I see her there, I see genuine joy….That makes me happy.}>>:12

And Lexi Zeiss stays connected with her Omaha friends. She recently attended her homecoming dance at Westside High.

As for her college plans, Zeiss announced on social media that she’ll attend LSU and eventually compete in gymnastics there.

But first, there’s this business of this weekend’s world team selection camp as Lexi Zeiss hopes to work her way toward the 2024 U.S. Olympic trials.

For Omaha Public Radio, I’m Greg Echlin.

LEXI ZEISS, USA - AG, Pan Rio 22, Jul17
USA - Artistic Gymnastics | Gymnastics Pan American Championships Rio22 | Jul17 | Arena Carioca 1, Olympic Park, Rio de Janeirio, Brazil | Photo: Ricardo Bufolin / USAGYM