Periodic pain, steady training, frequent travel and unforgettable moments.
High-level gymnastics has brought that and much more to Kentridge High’s sister act.
For Lezi and Lizzy McKnight, the rewarding sport that demands so much physically and mentally goes beyond the competition.
It’s about relationships, one looking out for the other.
“I’m proud of her,” Lexi said of her younger sister. “She really didn’t want to do gymnastics in the beginning. She did it because she wanted to be with me, which I think is cool … just to do it together for my last year.”
This winter was a season under the sun. Behind the McKnights’ all-around performances, the Chargers qualified for the state meet as a team for the first time in school history. And Lexi, a senior who turns 18 on Saturday, saved her best for last, capturing the Class 4A all-around title at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall on Feb. 16.
Lizzy, a sophomore who turns 16 on March 26, finished 12th in the all-around and followed that by delivering top-seven performances on the balance beam, floor exercise and vault in the individual event finals on Feb. 17.
“It was awesome. We came together as a team,” Lizzy said.
“We all did our best at the same time,” Lexi added. “It was so cool to see how happy we were and see how far we had made it.”
The state championship culminated a career that came at some cost for the girls.
Lexi competed nine months after undergoing Tommy John surgery to replace an ulnar ligament in the left elbow, her third operation on the joint. She tweaked her right one during her vault roundoff in the individual finals, ending her day at state.
Now on the mend, she hopes to avoid surgery and compete at her curtain call, the National High School Gymnastics Association Senior Showcase Invitational at Fort Myers, Fla., May 18-19.
Lexi, a Running Start student at Green River College, plans to retire after the invitational, graduate from Kentridge and study nursing at Seattle Pacific University next fall. She hopes to be a part of the SPU program in some capacity, perhaps as a manager.
“It’s my life. I can’t imagine my life without gymnastics, so it’s going to be hard. It’s everything I’ve always known,” Lexi said of stepping away.
The rigors of gymnastics cannot be ignored.
“It is really demanding,” Lexi said. “Like landing, especially on my vault, takes a lot out of your body, which is why my career is being cut shorter than what I had planned. … Training so many years takes its toll on you.
“It’s adrenaline, a lot of that,” she added. “When you get into an arena, a big stage, it just kicks in. Your body just knows what to do. You just have to push the pain aside, know that you’ve just have a couple of routines to finish and then you can rest for a day or so.”
Lizzy, meanwhile, has two more years of gymnastics, if she chooses, but she also would like to develop her skills at softer landings, the waters in diving. A quick study, she finished fourth in the state 1-meter finals for Kentridge last November.
Like her sister, Lizzy has had to deal with injuries, mostly with a right foot she has broken several times throughout her career. The latest episode came at the district meet when she hit her foot on the low bar, breaking a toe joint. She wore a walking boot leading up to the state meet.
“I taped it very tight so it wouldn’t hurt,” Lizzy said. “That’s kinda what we’ve done all our lives. …. push through the pain.”
The sisters come from an athletic family.
Their father, Brad McKnight, is a former 6-foot-8 college basketball player and now an assistant coach with the Kentridge boys basketball team. Their mother, Tami, is a former Gonzaga tennis player and cheerleader who teaches and coaches.
The girls began to tumble, do flips and other moves soon after they learned how to walk.
They competed at the club level, beginning at the YMCA and Grace Gymnastics in Lakewood for Kevin Milliren, coach and director, who was instrumental in developing the girls early on.
“What makes them special was that both were tremendous teammates,” Milliren said. “They were always hard working and enthusiastic. They focused on their own goals, but there was always an equal amount of enthusiasm for their teammates’ success as well.
“Both girls were fun and easy to coach. I knew both girls from the time they were very young, so it’s been fun to see them having success now as young ladies,” he said. “There will always be a fond place in my heart for both of them.”
The family eventually moved to Kent three years ago so Lexi could compete for Metropolitan Gymnastics. Lexi reached Level 10 status. Lizzy followed, reaching Level 9. The girls have trained and competed nationally.
The girls demanded and got the best out of each other. The sports drew them closer together.
Lexi is poised, passionate about the sport and focused at a specific task at hand. Lizzy is more outgoing, bubbly, well rounded and just likes to have fun.
“We’ve competed against each other a lot. We try to beat each other. She’s a tough competitor,” Lizzy said of her sister. “We’re different but we’re a lot alike.”
Looking back, the sisters have enjoyed the ride together.
“We made a lot of sacrifices but we don’t regret any of it,” Lexi said.