Getting to know Kylie Bridenhagen: SPASH Alumni and CWS Contributer


By David Keech –

The webpage for this article is CWS

Stevens Point – 2012-13 is the inaugural year of complete coverage of SPASH and Wisconsin Rapids gymnastics, and this undertaking would not be possible without the assistance of many. Helping cws out this year with individual photos of SPASH gymnasts has been former Panther gymnast Kylie Bridenhagen.

Kylie agreed to take some time for this in-depth interview.  Also interviewed for this feature are Kylie’s former coach and current SPASH coach Jennifer Bellmer-Callope, parent of gymnast Libby Pieczynski, Sarah Pieczynski, and Kylie’s mom, Kristy Bridenhagen.

cwsWhat sports did you play at SPASH?
Kylie: At SPASH, my main sport was gymnastics, which I competed varsity on all four years I was there. I also ran varsity track during my sophomore and senior year. (I would have all four, but I was hurt during freshman and junior year.)

cwsAs a gymnast, what were some of your individual accomplisments?
Kylie: I competed at team state my freshman, junior and senior year. I unfortunately had to sit out my sophomore year after my ankle injury got really, really bad although I was able to compete some meets during that season, just not at state. I earned some top three finishes at invitationals throughout my high school career. Three of which I really remember off the top of my head is getting third place on floor my freshman year at the Madison Memorial Invitational, which is a great accomplishment because many of the very good, “club” teams from the Milwaukee area compete at this meet. Also my freshman year, I got third on vault at the DC Everest Invite after landing my tsuk vault for the very first time. Lastly, I got third place at the Wisconsin Rapids Invite my senior year on floor.

cwsWhat are some of the accomplishments you were part of as Panther anthlete?
Kylie: I do believe my greatest accomplishment was making it to state every year as a team, especially my senior year where we placed seventh; this was our best finish as a team competing during my four years at SPASH. Senior year we won our Sectional meet in front of our home crowd at SPASH which was the best last home meet I could ever have asked for.

cwsDid you participate in other sports?
Kylie: I was in track. Last year, I got third place for indoor 55 hurdles and outdoor 100 hurdles, and was all conference in hurdles.

cwsWhat do you miss about competing in gymnastics and other sports at SPASH?
Kylie: Honestly, gymnastics was my whole life.  I started it when I was only three years old, and unlike some children who have participated in gymnastics while growing up, it was a “phase” that I never outgrew, nor do I think I will ever outgrow it, I just love it that much.
Most of my best friends were on sports teams with me, especially gymnastics.I spent every day at practice with the girls, and usually parts of the weekends too. I definitely would have considered our team as a family. Also, some of the girls I grew up doing gymnastics with went on to do SPASH gymnastics too, so that part was great.
As for the competing part, I miss every single part of it! I know practices were not always the most fun, but if I could go back, even for just a day, to compete again, I would. I miss it very, very much. Even though I don’t get to compete anymore, I know in some way, shape, or form, I will be involved with gymnastics for the rest of my life, because as I said before, I just love it that much.

            (Added Kylie’s mom:  She started when she was 3 years old and her passion has never stopped!    She has always had a love of the sport of gymnastics from the time she was 3 jumping and leaping on the coffee table (she was pretending it was a balance beam) and her love of the sport is still growing…I think she has viewed every single gymnastics video on YouTube! She has been doing gymnastics for 15 years and would love to still be competing but her ankle had other plans for her. She injured her ankle her Freshman year when she was performing her first Tsuk in competition, this now is an ongoing injury that has haunted her for 5 years!   Kylie competed all four years on Varsity (some JV meets too) during this entire time her ankle hurt on a daily basis but she continued to work out and try her best. All in all she had a great high school career, her only real wish would have been to be healthy so she really could have learned even bigger skills!”

cwsWhat was your favorite event(s) to compete in?
Kylie: My favorite event was floor. Once I got the concept of backwards twisting down, it was so much fun to do! I love the feeling of flying through the air and sticking the skill. Doing leaps, and choreography to music of your choice made it that much more fun. It was always fun to show off, especially at home meets in front of the home crowd.
I also really like beam, although it wasn’t my greatest event. I loved doing jumps and leaps and choreographing the routine to the way you liked. For me, that was making the routine look artistic with my skills, choreography, and poses.
(Added Coach Bellmer-Callope: As a SPASH gymnast, the thing that stood out to me about Kylie was her knowledge and passion about gymnastics.  She really loved the sport.  She was one who I could have in-depth gymnastics conversations with.)

cwsWhat advice can you give gymnasts about getting the most out of their experience as a high school gymnast?
Kylie: The best advice I can give any high school gymnast is to try your best– all the time, but have fun while doing so. It wasn’t until my junior year that I really realized that after high school, I would never get the opportunity to compete again and that is a truly terrible feeling. So unlike me, who didn’t honestly try their very hardest until junior year after that realization, I would say make sure to try your best, even when you’re a freshman.
Other advice I’d give is to try new skills, even if they scare you. You don’t necessarily have to try the “biggest” or “hardest” skills, but just try to learn something new. I didn’t know I was a good twister on floor until the end of my junior year when I first competed my full, and by that time, it was kind of too late.. If I’d known twisting was always that easy and came that naturally for me, I would have learned a full wayyyyy earlier and could have been competing at least doubles by the time I was a senior! So basically, always try new skills. The feeling of finally getting a new skill, or even perfecting an old one, is amazing! (:
Oh, and make the best out of your experience as a high school gymnast during your four years because once you’re done, you probably won’t get the chance to compete again.

cwsWhat do you miss about SPASH in general?
kylie: The thing I miss most about SPASH are my friends. Most of my very close friends are at different colleges throughout the midwest, so I only get to see them on longer school vacations like winter break or thanksgiving. I still am able to talk with them, but it’s not the same as seeing them and hanging out with them every day at school.
I also miss the sports end of it– both gymnastics and track. If you were to ask almost any SPASH student, they would agree with me that SPASH is a HUGE sports school. It was in sports that most of my best friends were, and I really miss that.

cwsWhat were your favorite classes at SPASH?
Kylie: I really liked my digital photography and journalism classes that I took. I also really enjoyed English and History classes. I liked English because of the writing aspect associated with it and also the reading parts. And for History, I’ve just always been interested in those types of things.

cwsWhat job(s) did you have while in high school?
Kylie: The only “real” job I had during high school was as a gymnastics coach at the YMCA. I mostly taught preschool and fundamental classes which was always fun because the ages of the kids you coach. The Parent Tot class I taught was always my favorite because even if you were having a really bad day, seeing the happy faces of the little kids running around the gym while their parents chased after them, could make you smile and feel super happy. I also subbed for some upper level classes like level 4 or 5. Those classes were also a lot of fun because it was cool so see the girls progressing during the season and learning new skills.

cws: Where are you attending college, and what is your  major?
Kylie: Winona State. My major is photojournalism. I’m trying to figure out a minor right now too…. maybe an English or History minor.. but I’m not too sure yet. For the first semester of college I won the Presidential Scholar Athlete award. These were awarded to student athletes at Winona State who received GPA’s higher than a 3.2.

cwsAre you working in college, and if so, where?
Kylie: Again, I don’t consider it a “real” job because it maybe is about two-ish hours a week, but I do work for the university paper, The Winonan. I am a photographer and writer. I was assigned to write about cross country and golf  teams during the fall. Right now I am writing articles about the gymnastics team, which is right up my alley, so I love it. I usually get at least one article published per week and usually a couple pictures too if I submit them.

cwsHow is going to school at Winona State similar to SPASH, and how is it different?  What is the atmosphere like?
Kylie: SPASH is similar to Winona in the size of the students. SPASH had a good number of kids that attended the high school, so I’m used to being around so many people at one time, unlike some people that I have met that had a graduating class of 50 people or less. Winona is different because it’s a university. I’m no longer living at home with my parents, brother, and pets; now I live by myself in a single room– no roomate! haha (: and its up to you to do everything. You have to get used to doing things on your own, because even though you make friends, you’re not always with them. Classes are also really different. At SPASH, like most high schools, you had “hours” that you followed and had pretty much the same classes every day. At college, sometimes you only have one or two classes one day, at different times during the day, but then the following day, you might have three or four. Another really different thing is homework. I still have to write papers and study and take tests, but there is A LOT more reading than I have ever done before for school, so that was, and still is, something I have to get used to. I do enjoy the atmosphere though. I’m close enough to home if I really need something, but far enough away to learn about living on my own and living college life on my own.

cwsAre you playing any sports?
Kylie: Track and Field– hurdles and possibly short sprints.

cwsWho are some of the people you admire the most, and why?
Kylie: I really admire my mom and dad. They are both very successful and work very hard at everything they do. They both encourage my brother and I, telling us that we can be great and succeed in whatever we put our minds to, and that is something that I am really starting to believe in.
I also admire all of the elite gymnasts and other athletes out there because they work their hardest everyday to get that much closer to their overall goal. They put their lives and soul into every workout and every competition, and it’s really quite incredible to see all of their hard work pay off after years and years of hard work.

cwsYou mentioned you are majoring in photojournalism. What is your background in photography?
Kylie: Well I got started in photography after getting hurt my freshman year of gymnastics. I injured my ankle, which I’m unfortunately still having problems with now, even in college during track. After hurting my ankle, I had to sit out most of my sophomore year, not able to compete. It was really hard to watch all my teammates and friends perform their routines while all I could do was watch from the sides. My mom had recently bought a used Canon PowerShot (I think that’s what it’s called…) and I had borrowed it a few times. Then, one day I decided to bring it to a meet and take pictures. Those pictures that I took were not nearly as good as they are now– they were blurry or dark– but even during that first meet, I fell in love with sports photography. Now instead of being sad at the meets that I could not compete at, I had something that would take that feeling of not being able to participate in the sport I love, away. Once I got the hang of it, I was hooked! I was always asking my parents if I could buy a new, better camera. I finally got one of those before my senior year, and again, took it to all meets and took pictures even if I was competing. There’s just this great feeling I get when I take a picture that I know looks good, show that person or people, and they get just as excited as I do because they think it is good too. So I guess even though I haven’t been doing photography too long, what started as a hobby, grew into a passion, and someday I hope to make a professional career out of it because I enjoy it that much.
Even though sports/action photography is my favorite, I also like nature photography, and might like to venture into portrait or even wedding photography someday. I think all types of photography seem very interesting and fun and I wouldn’t mind trying them all out!

                        (Added Kylie’s mom: Kylie has been taking pictures since junior high but it wasn’t until her ankle injury that her passion for taking pictures of sporting events/athletes happened.   I think it was her junior year, when she was out injured, she really started taking pictures of her teammates at meets. She was doing this to keep her mind off of not be able to compete! After the first couple of meets we noticed that her pictures were very good, I think she takes amazing gymnastics photos because she has the timing down from when she competed. She then started posting pictures on Facebook and her teammates and families loved them! Her Senior year she was asked to submit her pictures for the gymnastics spread in the yearbook. She was also able to create the two page layout and this became her first project in print!! She was really excited about seeing the final product in her Senior year yearbook! So, basically her worst experience of injuring her ankle has turned a once hobby into a passion that she is now hoping to turn into a career )

cwsSome readers may not be aware, but you helped this year by providing some individual photos you’ve taken of SPASH gymnasts this year. What led you to stay connected to the SPASH gymnastics program?
Kylie: Honestly, probably Libby Pieczynski, Heidi Zorn, and the head coach, Jenny Bellmer-Callope. I grew up doing gymnastics with Libby and she has always been one of my best friends all throughout high school and even now. Heidi I didn’t really get to know until she was a freshman, but she’s an awesome girl and quite an amazing gymnast. Thankfully she’s only a junior so I can still go visit next year! Jenny coached me when I was little at OGC when I lived in Oshkosh, and when I moved to Point, she coached me awhile when I competed at the Y, and continued to do so all four years of high school for me.
I think I will continue to go back because I am an alumni of SPASH and there might be some great talent there in the next couple years that I’d love to watch. Hopefully I’ll be there with my camera!

cwsWhat are your future professional goals?  How would you like to use your degree and education at Winona State to advance yourself in the photography ‘arena’?
Kylie:  My dream job someday would be to become a professional photographer and work for USAG, Sports Illustrated, or the Associated Press. I want to be able to go to a USAG National Championship, World Gymnastics Championships, and hopefully one day the Olympic Games and take pictures. Before all this though, I would like to an internship or two with a paper or maybe even a magazine, and then start with smaller jobs and work my way up.
I would love to someday have my pictures and articles published in a well-known magazine and/or newspaper.  I’m hoping that after a successful career in sports photography, I can start my own photography business and do wedding and senior portraits.
(Added Coach Bellmer-Callope:  I think because of her gymnastics knowledge she really knows how to write about gymnastics in an interesting way.  It’s the same for her picture taking too.  Because she knows the sport, she knows when a good time is, to take a photo.)

CWS posed the same questions the SPASH gymnasts answered this year, the survey they created. Here are Kylie’s answers.

Vanilla or chocolate? Chocolate
Most important aspect of a finishing routine Having the endurance to finish that last skill but looking polished, artistic, and graceful at the same time.
Favorite nail polish color Purple!
Favorite aisle in the grocery store? Fruit… or ice cream (:
Favorite scent? Can I say a chalky gym… (:
Otherwise probably apple or pine.
Dream place to live? Anywhere sunny and warm
Celebrity Crush? Ryan Reynolds
Dream Car Anything BMW
Favorite Gymnastics skill? To compete: one and a halfs on floor and aerials
To watch: double layouts off bars and as a tumbling pass on floor

Sarah Pieczynski gave testimony to the dedication Kylie has, and the kind of person she is. “ My daughter Libby went through two major knee surgeries during her gymnastics career at Spash – one that ended her freshman season and another during the  summer between sophomore and junior season.  Kylie suffered from her own injuries – spending  time out of practice and competition in a boot.  Kylie had great impact on Libby as they sat on the side watching their teammates competing keeping the season fun and up beat.  In fact, they decorated their medical hardware (Libby in her hinged knee brace and Kylie in her boot) together for sectionals and state one year.  Kylie kept Libby positive, focused and made sure she still felt like part of the team – even though there was a lot of time where Libby could participate only minimally.  Kylie mentored and supported Libby – always presenting a positive role model for her younger teammate.  When Libby would get sad or down, Kylie would lift her up by sharing a great photo she had taken of Libby or an inspirational quote she had found or just making her laugh. “