Gymnast overcomes injury to return to NCAA regionals

Kierstin Sokolowski competes in her bars routine in a Jan. 15 meet at Hyland Arena. Photo by Carly Fristoe

Photo by Carly Fristoe

Kierstin Sokolowski competes in her bars routine in a Jan. 15 meet at Hyland Arena.
Photo by Carly Fristoe

For the second time in three years, Lindenwood gymnast Kierstin Sokolowski is heading to NCAA regionals as one of the top individual balance-beam and vault competitors in the country.

On its own, the accomplishment would be noteworthy, but the path that Sokolowski took to return to the regional competition is even more impressive in the eyes of Lindenwood gymnastics head coach Jen Kesler.

In 2016, Sokolowski started out strong for the Lions, leading the team in the vault event in the first four meets of the season. However, she suffered a knee injury in the season’s fifth meet and was done for the year.

Kesler called the experience “very humbling for her,” especially after the high level of success she had attained during her first year at the school.

According to Kesler, Sokolowski came to Lindenwood in 2015 and became the “most decorated freshman in program history,” finishing as the USA Gymnastics individual all-around national champion and a first team All-American. She also finished in the top 15 in the NCAA regional all-around competition.

Following her injury, Kesler said that Sokolowski returned for the 2017 season “on a mission,” and said that the adversity she faced has made her noticeably more mentally strong and hungry to gain success than she was before going through her injury.

Because she was not cleared to return to training until November, she only was able to train on the bars at the beginning of the season.

This allowed her to work on perfecting that event, and she added a release move to her arsenal that allowed her to gain more points on the bars this season.

Kesler called this season a great success for Sokolowski considering the circumstances and referred to her as an “incredible workhorse.”

This season, Sokolowski won four vault titles and five beam championships, including the conference championship on the beam. Her effort led her to earning NCAA regional bids on both of those events.

“It’s very hard to qualify in two events,” Kesler said.

In an interview with Lindenwood’s athletic department, Sokolowski said that her previous experience at regionals will be an asset for her when she competes on April 1 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“I think it gives me an inside view of what it’s going to be like,” Sokolowski said. “I know there are going to be a lot of good teams, and I’ll be there alone. It’ll be cool to see everyone else and be able to thrive off that energy.”

She also added that she was anxious to get back in the competition, especially considering the hard road she has traveled to get back to this point.

“I’m excited,” Sokolowski said. “I know what it’s like at regionals. It’s just so thrilling to watch everyone else compete. It’s going to be a great environment.”