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Battling, overcoming obstacles: Mueller looks to close out standout career on balance beam

During her high school career, Dickinson senior gymnast Jenna Mueller has dealt with injury after injury.

Doctors warned Mueller about the long-term effects the sport could have on the rest of her life. But Mueller said she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

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“There was the thought of giving up the sport and there was always the doctors telling me that my body can’t take this anymore,” she said. “I’ve never tried to give it up, but I’ve thought about it. I can’t imagine my life being any different than going to gymnastics practice and hanging out with my friends.”

Mueller has battled through back, knee and ankle injuries and helped the Midgets win a North Dakota state gymnastics title in 2013. Mueller and the Midgets host the West Region Meet at 5 p.m. today.

“My body is ready to be done, but I’m going to definitely miss it,” said Mueller, a senior at Dickinson Trinity. “It’s going to be different not coming to practice for two-and-a-half to three hours.”

Injuries have played a factor in limiting Mueller to one or two events. Her best event is balance beam where she was the state runner-up in 2012 and took third in 2011.

Mueller is ranked No. 3 in the state in beam with an average of 9.517. She trails teammate and three-time defending state all-around champion Acacia Fossum (9.717) and Bismarck junior Katlin Kelly (9.575) in the averages.

“She’s had a couple physical problems as far as injuries and it restricted her to two events,” Dickinson head coach Kent Van Ells said. “She’s really good on beam. One thing you can never too many of is gymnasts who are solid on beam. She rarely falls. She hasn’t fallen this year — knock on wood.”

Senior Mikaela Kessel has been by Mueller’s side since the two began their varsity gymnastic careers as seventh-graders. Mueller was unable to compete as a seventh-grader because of injuries.

There’s no doubt in Kessel’s mind the season wouldn’t be the same without Mueller.

“Ever since seventh grade, we’ve been two peas in a pod,” said Kessel, who holds the top ranking in the floor exercise and is eighth in the all-around. “We’ve shared so many memories together. We’ve shared hard times when we lost at state. We’ve also had good times by winning state. We’ve been through it all.”

Mueller and Kessel are the Midgets’ two senior leaders. The team is ranked first in the state with an average team score of 147.750 points. Dickinson has posted its highest team scores in its past two meets. The Midgets scored a 148.750 on Feb. 7 in Minot and a 148.650 on Feb. 13 in Dickinson.

For the past two seasons, Dickinson has had a pair of seniors at its forefront.

The Midgets had Mckenzie Kostelecky and Chantal Urlacher as senior leaders last season. Van Ells said it’s nice, and also difficult, to have a pair of seniors.

“The only thing is you lose two at a time that way,” Van Ells said with a laugh. “Being successful in gymnastics and continuing your career from seventh-grader to a senior is a challenge. It takes a lot of dedication and work. Not everyone makes it all the way to a senior.”

Family time in gymnastics

Mueller said after competing in gymnastics for so long, the practice room is like a second home, Van Ells is like a second father and her teammates are sisters.

The sister part is 100 percent correct. Mueller’s younger sister, Jill, is a junior.

Jill competes in the all-around and is ranked in the top 20 of the uneven bars and beam.

“(Jill) is a lot of motivation,” Jenna said. “She pushes me harder, because you always want to be better than your younger sister. She pushes me to work harder. I’m sure I push her too.”

Jill said there is definitely sibling rivalry, especially when it comes to the beam. However, at the end of the day, Jill wants perform as well as Jenna on the beam.

“We’ve definitely had our differences, but when it comes down to it, we are always there for each other,” Jill said. “I look up to her because I want to get her scores and be like her in that aspect of it.”

Kessel and Jenna Mueller have been friends since they were five years old. Kessel said they know what the other is thinking and what to do in different situations to make sure the team is ready to compete in every meet.

“Where I lack in giving advice, she can pick it up,” Kessel said. “She knows what I’m going to say. My thoughts and her thoughts are exactly the same.”

Winning a state title in multiple sports

Mueller isn’t only a state champion in gymnastics. She helped the Dickinson High bowling team win the 2013 title.

Bowling has been big part of Mueller’s life. Her father, John, is the owner of The Paragon bowling alley.

Mueller said it was great to share the experience of winning a state title with the bowling team.

“I played on the high school team in my junior year and it was a new thing to me,” she said. “It’s a different team thing to me because I’m used to bowling individually. Being able to be with another team and win another state championship and have them share in those feelings like we had in gymnastics is just a great feeling.”