With a daily gymnastics vocabulary of “stick it, go Tigers and we need more chalk,” hours of strenuous workouts and gym time abruptly ended on March 12.
Instead of boarding the chartered flight to Georgia to compete in a full arena and on national television, the nationally-ranked University of Missouri gymnastics team, which includes Rapid City Central graduate Chelsey Christensen, was told that their season just ended.
Christensen's younger brother, Jens Christensen, a St. Thomas More graduate, also was forced to pack for home as a pole vaulter for North Dakota State University.
Jens and Chelsey are both still at home in Rapid City, sheltering in place even though their mother (Dr. Rochelle Christensen) works in the clinic and hospital every day, and both are hoping to get back with their teams soon.
Christensen played a vital part in a successful season for the Missouri gymnastics team that ended the season abruptly ranked 14th in the nation. Some early season team errors for this team were erased as the Tigers propelled in upward rankings every week with higher scores. Mizzou, from the Southeast Conference, beat Big Ten Conference teams like Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio State. The team had a high score of 196.85, ninth best in program history, and ended the season with a national qualifying score of 196.635, the highest since 2004.
“We all fully expected to be ranked in the top 12 nationally, and compete at Nationals (April 17-18 in Fort Worth, Texas) with this amazing team," Chesley said.
Christensen had a strong junior season with a season-high and career-high score on bars is 9.85 and high scores of 9.8 on vault and 9.8 on floor. She was on the bar team that tied the Missouri bars record with a 49.4 points in February.
“It’s really all about my team. Even though I want to perform my best, in college it is a team sport," said Chelsey, who trains all-around. "Our team unity and friendship make for our success; we want the best for each other and I know my team has my back."
Christensen was selected to the All-SEC Community Service Team, an eight member team consisting of a member from each SEC school. Some of her favorite community volunteer activities include Playing 4 Hope, Mizzou Moves, Volunteer pediatric hospital visits, Caleb’s Pitch, Girls on the Run and Sole4Souls that involved a mission trip to Costa Rica.
“I’m just grateful for this journey and these opportunities, both inside and outside of the gym," she said.
Christensen is also a two-time academic All-American and was just named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll for a second time. In 2020 she was inducted into the Mizzou Three Stripes Club and has made the dean’s list four times during her academic career. She is a Tiger Leadership Institute (TLI) member and a Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Representative. She has a major in biological sciences and a minor in psychology.
The COVID-19 pandemic has other effects as well. The team is staying connected with virtual meetings and activities. Coach Shannon Welker talks to gymnasts individually, “just to make sure we’re doing okay.” Like most colleges, Mizzou is finishing classwork online. Christensen is still doing campus work, physics lab simulations, and other meetings virtually, but her summer research which involved studying spinal cord injury and doing surgery on leeches got suspended, which is another disappointment.
She is reaching out to community children also affected by the pandemic. Recently she spoke with Columbia, Missouri school children in their Zoom classroom about being a NCAA college gymnast and a student athlete, answering questions.
Jens Christensen, a freshman, was part of the NDSU team that won the Summit Indoor Championships in February, but the spring outdoor season has been canceled. This may give him an extra season to pole vault for NDSU.
He spent the indoor season adjusting his technique to the NDSU coaching style.
“My first indoor season was definitely interesting," he said. "Since it was my first year, it was important to learn the ropes. My coach and I spent our time developing my physical and technical abilities for pole vault. It was great getting to know my teammates and coaches at NDSU.”
His season highlight was tying for second place at the SDSU Indoor Classic, jumping 14-feet, 11½ inches.
Christensen's track season was cut short before the outdoor season started. With the short indoor season, he said he didn’t get to realize the full benefits of his hard work and daily training.
“It’s disappointing, but I’m excited about the future potential with my team when we can get back to the level that we left at," he said. “I have a very good coach and awesome teammates, so I can’t wait to see what happens."
When Christensen returned to Rapid City for spring break, he had full intentions of returning to campus for the remainder of the track season at some point. He didn’t know that he’d never get to practice with his NDSU track and field team for the rest of the year, or stay with his dorm roommates again. He has stayed in contact with his teammates via text and social media, and is finishing his college courses online.
Chelsey is looking to return to the University of Missouri campus in June or July, and Jens wants to return to the NDSU campus in August.
“I miss my teammates so much, but at least we have virtual team meetings and communication. My team is my family,” Chelsey said. “I think it’s worse for seniors like Morgan (Porter), Aspen (Tucker), and Wynter (Childers, a Spearfish native who competed for Alabama). The seniors are just done, but when we finish quarantine, I can look forward to training and competing with my teammates and coaches again. I can’t wait to see what we are capable of.”
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