See more of the story

Lexi Zeiss stands in a nearly empty gym in Champlin, talking on her phone. A small group of girls work on the ballet barres off to the side. Lexi gets off the phone, dashes over to the group and joins the routine without missing a beat.

"Slay," said Zeiss, 18, who stands a chance at being the next gymnast with local ties to compete in the Olympics. "Look at me go."

Zeiss and her family moved to Minnesota from Nebraska three years ago so she could train at the Twin City Twisters gym under elite gymnastics coach Sarah Jantzi. The two would get paired up for practices before meets, and Zeiss said she fell in love with Jantzi's coaching during those sessions.

It's why Zeiss pleaded with her family to relocate from Omaha.

At first, Lexi's father, Jess Zeiss, wasn't thrilled about the idea. His wife had established a career as a nurse practitioner, and it meant uprooting the whole family.

"I dug my heels in," Jess Zeiss said. "I'm already north enough."

Ultimately, the Zeiss family decided to rent a home in Minnesota. They now split their time between Nebraska and the Twin Cities.

"Kids go places all the time," Jantzi said. "As a coach, it makes you feel like you're doing something right."

Jantzi has worked with two athletes who competed at the Olympic level during her tenure at Twin City Twisters. Grace McCallum of Isanti made the U.S. Olympic team and competed in the Tokyo Games in the summer of 2021. Maggie Nichols of Little Canada reached the Olympic trials in 2016 but fell just short.

Zeiss, who practices six days a week, is a contender for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team ahead of this summer's Paris Games. She was the all-around champion in the 2023 Winter Cup national meet and, more recently, got sixth on the uneven bars in the 2023 U.S. gymnastics championships. She won three medals as a member of the U.S. team at the 2022 Pan-American Championships.

As she works to qualify, Zeiss is preparing for the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team trials hosted at the Target Center at the end of June — a 25-minute drive from her home gym.

If she makes the team, Zeiss would compete on the international stage at the same age St. Paul's Sunisa Lee was when she competed in the Tokyo Olympics. She won three medals, including gold in the all-around.

Lexi Zeiss chats with best friend Elle Mueller during practice at Twin City Twisters in Champlin, Minn., on March 29.
Lexi Zeiss chats with best friend Elle Mueller during practice at Twin City Twisters in Champlin, Minn., on March 29.

Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

Zeiss feels the pressure as the gym's only prospective Olympian. She said coaches have her focusing on small goals instead of looking at the bigger picture.

"I really enjoy having that extra eye on me," Zeiss said. "But I'd say that it's a challenge."

Zeiss stayed with teammates when she first moved to Minnesota, before her family's house was ready. She adapted to a new gym and started school online. She takes classes virtually through University of Nebraska High School.

Life is far from normal. But Zeiss still went to prom with her friends from her old high school and hangs out with best friend Elle Mueller, who also trains at Twin City Twisters.

"I'll just go over to her house sometimes and just do school," Mueller said. "Talk about life, talk about boys — anything really."

In the fall, Zeiss is headed to Louisiana State. Until then, she's hyper-focused on earning a spot on Team USA.

The gym was silent during a recent Friday practice, until Jantzi turned on "No Hard Feelings" by Old Dominion. Zeiss worked the bars alongside two other gymnasts.

Each time she made a mistake, Zeiss quickly got back up. Her smile never wavered, typical of the aspiring Olympian. Mueller said Zeiss has had a positive attitude since they first met three years ago. "She was so excited every day, and so that made me excited every day," Mueller said.