By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
When Kelly Keitel is in the air doing all kinds of flips and twists and turns, she says it feels like she’s flying.
As it turns out, this 20-year-old is quite accomplished at flipping, twisting and turning.
And as a result, she will be flying again real soon.
This time, however, it will be in an airplane headed to Sophia, Bulgaria.
Kelly has been selected to compete in the World Age Group competition, scheduled for November 16-19.
She, along with hundreds of other athletes from around the world, will display their skills in tumbling, trampoline and the double mini (a miniature trampoline that requires competitors to do two skills in one routine).
Kelly is one of two from the United States that will compete on the double mini in the 17-21 age group.
“This will be the toughest competition I’ve ever faced,” Kelly admitted. “I have competed against some of these girls here in the states, but others I will be seeing for the first time.”
For Kelly, it’s the culmination of a goal and a dream that started when she was just three years old.
“My sisters were in dance class and Mom would take me along,” Kelly recalled. “I really liked it. Even at that young age, it was just a fit for me. And as I got older, I realized I was decent at it.”
She started out in tumbling, but always had her eye on the trampoline. But it was another six years before she started competing on the trampoline and double mini. And she quickly excelled at both.
“As I got older and more advanced, I was able to learn new skills and I just loved it,” Kelly noted.
But it wasn’t until just a couple years ago that she began to focus solely on those two events.
“My senior year in high school, I started having some back pain,” she said. “I just didn’t want to do tumbling any more. I wanted to concentrate on the trampoline and double mini. When I started to concentrate on just those two events, I started learning more and getting better.”
That decision proved to be a good one. In less than a month, Kelly will be headed to Bulgaria to compete at the highest level.
Kelly is the daughter of Kal and Renee Keitel, of Effingham. She has four brothers – Greg, Tim, Jeff and Zach – and two sisters – Amy and Stacey. Jeff and Zach have also competed in the trampoline and double mini. Kelly graduated from Effingham High School in 2015 and from Lake Land College in 2017, with an associate’s degree in science. She is now attending Illinois State University, majoring in exercise science.
She was trained at Amy’s Power Tumbling for several years. She has also trained at Cayla’s Power Tumbling, a gym in Charleston and currently trains at Top Star in Champaign. Her coaches are Missy Weder and Mike VanSpankeren.
“When I decided to just concentrate on the two events and I made the switch to the USA Gymnastics group, I realized I could be really good,” Kelly said. “When you see others around doing well, it makes you want to be just like them.”
Through the years, Kelly has competed in events from coast to coast. But the World Age Group event will be her first competition outside the United States.
“I’ve experienced both the good and bad in competition,” she admitted. “When I was in the sixth grade, I broke my femur in Edwardsville. I landed wrong and it just snapped. It took about six months to come back from that.”
But the setbacks have been few and far between. Through the years, Kelly has continued to work hard and that effort produced positive results. She went from the Intermediate level to the Senior Elite Division and is now considered one of the top performers in the country.
“When you’re competing, you have to block out all other aspects of what’s going on,” Kelly explained. “When you get high in the air, you have to focus on your routine, prepare for your landing and go into your next skill.
“When you start learning the bigger, more difficult skills, you have to get over the fear of landing on your head,” she added with a bit of a laugh. “You just have to fight through it. Once you do it, though, it just clicks. You just have to get past the mental obstacle of it.”
When approaching the double mini, it’s similar to the vault in gymnastics. The competitor runs down the runway and jumps on the miniature trampoline. That is followed by the first skill, landing on the mini tramp and jumping even higher, the second skill and then landing on the mat.
“You have to control your speed so you can set up for your routine,” Kelly noted. “Then you do your two skills and go into your landing. It’s important that you stick your landing just like the Olympics. How you land will affect your score.”
Kelly has been practicing at least 10 hours a week. And she said those practice sessions have been intense.
She has decided on her routine. Her first skill will be a double front with a half turn. Her second skill will be a double back straight with a full twist on the second flip.
Each competitor receives three execution scores between 1 and 10. There is also a level of difficulty factor. The more difficult the routine, the higher the score.
“I’ve been practicing a lot,” Kelly said. “At this level, you have to be ready to perform. One bad routine and it’s over. You only get two routines and they take the top eight to the finals.
“But I’ve never been one to focus solely on my score,” she added. “I just want to perform my best. If I do that, the scores will take care of themselves.”
Kelly is going to World Age Group competition with two goals in mind. Her first is to make the finals. If she accomplishes that, the next goal will be to earn a medal. The top three receive those.
“I’m sure I will battle some nerves,” she admitted. “But I normally chit chat with the coaches and I’m always doing something to calm me down.”
The competitors are given 20 seconds to do their routine.
“Once the judge salutes you, then you block everything out and focus,” Kelly added. “The double mini is the only thing I will be focusing on.”
She said team members will be given a little time for sightseeing once they arrive, but quickly noted there will still be a lot training going on for final preparations.
Kelly will have her own cheering section in Bulgaria. Her mother Renee, plus brothers Tim and Jeff and an aunt and uncle will all make the trip.
“That’s super cool they can come and enjoy this experience with me,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my mom and dad, I wouldn’t be in this spot. They’ve invested a lot of time, money and dedication. They’ve put a lot of miles on vehicles and bought a lot of plane tickets through the years. They’ve been great.”
How much longer will Kelly continue to compete?
“Maybe another year or two,” she said. “Most kids usually finish when they’re 20 or 21 years old. Considering this has been part of my life for 17 years, it’s something I’m really into. But it takes a lot of time and it’s getting to the point I need to focus more on school and my future. One thing is for sure. It has definitely taught me how to have time management.”
But for now, Kelly is focused on the competition and enjoying the experience.
“I found out the second week in September that I had been selected. Words cannot explain how super excited I was. This has been a goal of mine for a long time.”