As she enjoys some of her final high school spring break this week, Kristen Valasek has a lot to look forward to.
She has seven weeks left as a student at Patrick Henry, the prom, and, of course, graduation. But there’s one other entry on her calendar completely unique to her.
May 17-18, Valasek will represent Virginia in the National High School Gymnastics Association Senior Showcase Invitational in Fort Myers, Fl. Only five gymnasts, all seniors, comprise the Virginia team.
“This is something I’ve looked forward to since I was a freshman,” Valasek said. “Plus, it’s just a couple of days before my birthday, so it’ll be a fun trip.”
Though Valasek’s gymnastic ability was on display long before she arrived on the Patrick Henry campus in the fall of 2010, another sport led Valasek to her home where chalk spills freely by the bars and music permeates the air at floor exercise.
“I figure skated when I was younger because my brother played hockey, so we spent lots of time at the roller rink,” Valasek explained. “My mom thought gymnastics lessons would actually help my figure skating. I liked gymnastics so much, I quit figure skating.”
That would make Valasek one of the few who retired from a sport at the tender age of 4, having traded her skates for a beam and a vault. Two years later, she was old enough to compete at pre-teen events. One of them landed her victory against a future famous opponent.
“At Level 4 in the state meet one year I finished first on the beam. I actually beat Kyla Ross, who ended up in the Olympics,” Valasek proclaimed.
Ross competed in the 2012 London Games as part of the gold-medal winning United States team, and, in 2013, she was second in the all-around at the World Championships.
She was already used to high-level meet competition, and, actually, longer seasons through USA Gymnastics as she progressed toward her high school career. When she began wearing the Patriots colors, it didn’t stop her club gymnastics work.
“In high school season, I would practice over 20 hours a week, and that doesn’t count high school meets, which could last forever,” Valasek said with a wry smile, “and compete on weekends at club meets as well.”
Her plate was full. But the hard work that began at the turn of the century paid off handsomely. She was named Central Region Gymnast of the Year in both 2012 and 2013, sweeping all four categories to win the Region All-Around title. At the state level, however, a fall from the beam led to a difficult day and a 12th-place finish. She was determined to improve that in her final season.
But as is the case with many athletes, another mountain emerged right in front of the path to her senior year: a wrist injury. Valasek doesn’t know the “moment” it happened, believing it was a result of years of usage and repetitions. Doctor visits gave way to trips to a specialist, none of whom could pinpoint the reason either.
“I’m the kind of person that likes to get things fixed, but they kept saying we don’t know how exactly to fix it,” Valasek noted.
She fought the injury through most of this past regular season, deciding against a surgical procedure with a six-month recovery period, and no guarantees, according to Valasek, that it would work.
She won the inaugural Conference 11 All-Around title, then, a week later, survived another beam fall to place third at the 5A South Region finals. It gave her a ticket to the State Championships. That’s what she wanted.
In her last hurrah for the Patriots, Valasek finished with 38.125, a 9.9 on the uneven bars, and a second-place finish both on the bars and in the all-around. It was the highest finish by a Patrick Henry gymnast at the state level in total competition.
“I wanted to go out with a bang, and give it my all,” Valasek recalled. “Finishing second in the state is a huge honor, breaking a Patrick Henry record. It’s an honor for a school that’s been open 50-plus years, but I’ve worked very hard for it.”
She’ll take that work ethic with her now to Florida when national competition opens a month from today. Valasek, along with her Patriot head coach, Austin Beazley, will work together once more, hoping to bring gold back to Hanover County.
After that, her future is up in the air. Valasek is still deciding on her collegiate home and, while it does not look likely she will compete at the next level, don’t expect a divorce between her and the sport she loves anytime in the near future.
“Gymnastics is a great workout, so it will keep my skills up, too. I’ve coached some before. I love the sport, it’s been such a big part of me for really my whole life,” Valasek noted. “But for now, it’s really fun to say I’m representing Team Virginia.”
Valasek is raising funds to cover the cost of her trip to the National HSGA Senior Showcase next month. To contribute to help defray expenses, visit www.gofundme.com/7pk7ak.