BLOOMINGTON — A visit by Bloomington's Kennedy Dietz to a "Mommy and Me" gymnastics class several years ago sparked what would become a passion.
"My mom (Sara) noticed that I was climbing on everything, so she took me to a Mommy and Me class and I loved it," said Dietz, now a 13-year old seventh-grader at Cornerstone Christian Academy. "I loved it because I got to meet a bunch of new people and try a bunch of new skills."
She's also learned along the way that she could be quite talented in the vault, bars, beam and floor exercise. Good enough, in fact, to be competing this weekend in the USA Gymnastics Level 9 Eastern Championships at Silver Spurs Arena at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla.
Dietz will be representing Bloomington's Gymnastics Etc. in the meet and be the first area gymnast to compete in a national-level event since 2011, according to Brad Tubbs, one of her three coaches.
She'll be joined in Florida by Normal Community High School sophomore Polina Kreuz, who will be the first in history to represent Bloomington's Victory Academy on the national stage.
"I'm super excited because this is the first time for my program," Polina said. "It's exciting because I get to represent my team."
Both Dietz and Kreuz spend around 18 hours per week honing their skills.
Tubbs, a part-owner of Rising Stars Academy and Gymnastics, Etc., is impressed by Dietz's work ethic.
"Kennedy started about six years ago at Level 3," he said. "She had kind of a rocky start the first year and after that she worked super hard and has been crushing it ever since. She comes in and pushes herself hard in conditioning which then gets her strong enough to get up there and attempt the higher level skills."
Dietz earned Level 9 Eastern National Dream Team Member status in the Region 5 Regional Championships a month ago in Battle Creek, Mich.
Since then, she's been working with her coaching trio of Tubbs, his wife Renee and Teresa Millmore, to hone her skills while loading up on carbs and getting plenty of rest in preparation for this weekend's event.
She's also trying to be mentally prepared.
"I try to stay positive and I envision my routine in my head before I go," Dietz said.
Kreuz, 16, has been involved in gymnastics since age seven.
"I watched the 2008 Olympics and I was inspired by the gymnasts there, so I just started flipping and it was fun," she said. "I've always aspired to be at (Level 9) and it's really cool to actually get to this level."
Kreuz is coached by Leah Herchenbach of Bloomington, a former collegiate gymnast at Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
"I never made it to a nationals, so it's cool to have a gymnast that could," Herchenbach said. "It's kind of surreal. I never got to that point and I don't know what to expect. But I know it's going to be super fun and she's earned it. We're just going to go down there and have fun and see what it's like."
Kreuz, who says she's a perfectionist, also will be competing in the vault, bars, beam and floor exercise.
"I'm super excited," she said. "I'm a little nervous, but it's always good to be nervous before a big meet. At the same time, I know how prepared I am and I've worked really hard throughout the whole season."
Kreuz was Victory Academy's first Level 7 and Level 8 gymnast, as well as the only Level 9.
"Hopefully she'll be the first Level 10 next year," Herchenbach said. "Everything I do with her is first, so it's pretty cool figuring it out with her and going on this adventure and growing together."