Ahead of schedule: KidzPlex’s Kester qualifies for nationals in first year at Level 9
When 16-year-old KidzPlex gymnast Tessa Kester steps on the floor Saturday at the Women’s Junior Olympic Level 9 Western Championship in Des Moines, Iowa, she’ll be a long way from the 11-year-old who nearly had to give up gymnastics.
Five years ago, Kester was a Level 7 gymnast who was forced to take a year away to recover from spondylosis, a degenerative condition that affects the spine.
“When I first found out when I had, I was in a lot of pain,” Kester said. “Gymnastics is my life, and at first it devastated me but I was able to come back.”
Kester returned to the sport determined to not let her back injury keep her from anything.
First came a state championship at Level 7, followed by a winning Level 8 bars routine at regionals, and most recently, finishing sixth at Level 9 at regionals to qualify for the national meet.
“I’m really excited,” Kester said. “I’ve put in a ton of hard work and I know it’s going to be a whole new ballgame.”
Kester will compete in all four events at nationals, and said she feels like she’s a strong all-around gymnast, but the vault and floor exercise have stood out lately.
“I’ve been getting really high scores on vault and floor,” Kester said. “But it’s set up where we have to be good at all of them.”
Her coach, Brian Bensley, said Kester’s rise in gymnastics hasn’t come as too much of a surprise because of her attitude.
“She’s one of the most positive kids I’ve ever coached,” Bensley said. “When things are frustrating or discouraging she still has a positive attitude. She has some physical disadvantages for gymnastics because she’s so tall, but she’s been able to overcome that and do really well.”
Kester is ahead of schedule, making it to the Level 9 nationals in her first year at that level — especially when you consider the Grand Junction High School sophomore had to qualify out of one of the most difficult regions in the country.
“We weren’t anticipating she’d make it this soon,” Bensley said. “When we go to our region in Texas, it’s really tough there. We thought if she hits and does her best she might have a shot at nationals, and she hit and did her best and got in with a couple of places to spare.”
No matter what happens at the national meet, Kester plans to keep progressing in gymnastics. She has a goal to move up to Level 10, the highest level obtainable.
“I would like to go Level 10 next year so I’m going to work really hard all summer to get those skills,” Kester said. “If it doesn’t happen, I’ll go Level 9 again and try to perfect all the skills.”