With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro less than two years away, U.S. women's senior gymnast Lexie Priessman continues to fight through adversity to fulfill her lifelong dream of making the U.S. women's Olympic team.
As a 13-year-old junior in 2010, Priessman broke onto the gymnastics scene with a first-place finish during the inaugural Nastia Liukin Cup -- started by 2008 Olympic individual all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin and USA Gymnastics. Priessman's resolve during the Nastia Liukin Cup was tested by two injuries and a career-altering decision.
Despite changing gyms for the first time during her 12-year career in June 2014 and dealing with nagging toe and ankle issues the last several years, Priessman said she had not allowed those two factors to alter her decision to continue training for a selection to the Olympic team at the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials.
She said she hoped to be one of the five gymnasts who compromised the 2016 Olympic team, and help deliver the squad its second consecutive team gold for the first time since the start of the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. The U.S. captured team gold during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.
"It's going to take a lot for me to make the 2016 Olympic team," Priessman said. "As of right now, I would really love to give it a shot. It would mean so much to me if I made the team. Through all my injuries, plus having all that time spent in the gym, the payoff would make me so happy."
About a few months following the conclusion of her national debut at the Nastia Liukin Cup, Priessman, a native of Cincinnati, suffered her first major injury when she dislocated her right toe during a beam dismount in a training session at her then-home gym, Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy.
Priessman said instead of having surgery in the immediate aftermath, she opted for a tape job to keep her toe in place as best she could during the next 2.5 years.
"My toe would pop out nonstop because I tore every ligament in it," Priessman said, "I would lean to the ride side of my foot to try to protect my toe, and then I would start hurting the rest of my foot."
Competing with that injury during her first competition as a senior in 2013, Priessman, the 2012 U.S. junior national all-around champion, finished 12th at the Secret U.S. Classic with a score of 43.900, partly because she didn't contribute a beam routine.
Although she was scheduled to compete at the P&G Gymnastics Championships about three weeks later from Aug. 15-18, 2013, Priessman was scratched from the event. She said the pain in her toe had become too unbearable to continue training and competing at the level at which she knew she was capable of.
"We made the decision that it was time to get the toe fixed and get the surgery," Priessman said. "I was so upset that I couldn't compete, because I was hoping to try and make the 2013 U.S. world team."
Then, 10 months later, after watching the U.S. win the medal count with a country-record 12 medals during the 2013 World Gymnastics Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, and successfully rehabbing her surgically repaired toe, Priessman left Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy.
She said she had left the gym and her coach, Mary Tracy Lee, to rejoin her first coach, Enrique Trabanino, who left Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy to open Perfection Gymnastics School in West Chester, Ohio, in April 2010.
"I am so happy to be back with him," Priessman said of Trabanino. "I got to a point in my life where I needed a change. I love Perfection Gymnastics School, and I can't thank them enough for making it my new second home."
While she was preparing to compete under Trabanino for the first time in more than four years at the Secret U.S. Classic in Chicago Aug. 2-4, Priessman suffered another setback. She sustained an ankle injury after landing a dismount off the beam during a podium training session Aug. 1, one day before she was slated to compete.
Priessman had an X-ray performed later that night at a local hospital, and she said doctors diagnosed her with a torn ligament that attaches her fibula to her left ankle. Five days after her diagnosis, Priessman had surgery to repair the damage.
Meanwhile, even after being told by doctors that she would have to use crutches and have her foot in a walking boot for six weeks, Priessman said she returned to the gym five days after her surgery Aug. 11 to begin working on her conditioning.
"It will be a process and take time," Priessman said, "but it's like every other little setback I have had."
As she continues rehabbing, Priessman said, she knows the next year will be critical if she wants to put herself in a position to continue chasing her dream of qualifying for the Olympics.
"First, I need to get 100 percent healthy," Priessman said, "and I need to make sure I show up every day with a smile on my face ready to get the job done. I will also need to keep pushing myself, listening to my coaches and have fun."