Get To Know – Gabriela Lesko

Koda Hedrick, Staff Reporter

“GET TO KNOW” FEATURES: Throughout the fall 2020 semester the Fairmont State Athletics Department will be posting “get to know” features to allow fans, donors, parents, and fellow student-athletes to get to know members of the 17 athletics programs at Fairmont State University. For today’s feature, we sat down with senior Acrobatics & Tumbling standout Gabriela Lesko.

Why did you choose Fairmont State? 

“I chose Fairmont State because it was really close to home when I used to live in [Latrobe] PA. And, when I found out about the National Security and Intelligence program it really lit up my world because I didn’t think something like that existed. I was really excited to follow in my family’s footsteps and do something with the government as a career. I would say Acrobatics & Tumbling, being close to home, and the academic program brought me here.” 

Can you tell me your story/journey, about your family/friends and where you were raised? 

“I grew up with two older brothers and my mom and dad. My dad was a builder at the time, so we would move houses every couple years. I’m a huge family person. I have a large family and we all love each other and love hanging around each other. I was raised to be really respectful, loving and giving. Everyone around me kinda was the same way as well.” 

Biggest moment(s) on and off the mat at Fairmont State thus far? 

“On the mat, it would be when we won the MEC Championship (in 2019). That was extremely huge because it was the first-ever conference championship in the history of the sport, so we made history for the sport of Acrobatics & Tumbling.” 
“Off the mat, it would probably be making the President’s List and being able to connect with my classmates and teachers. It’s a close-knit family here at Fairmont State and that’s what I love about this school.” 

Can you describe your relationship with former head coach  Kristi Kiefer? 

“I love her. If I had a problem or a situation going on, I know I could call her and she would easily take care of me. When I came to Fairmont, I got the vibe from Coach Kristi that she would be like another mom. She would be like my mom away from home. It’s still the same whether she’s my coach or not. She’s always going to be Coach Kristi to me. She’s still going to be there for me. I would say we are still really close and I know I can count on her.” 

What did it mean to you when the NCAA voted to approve Acrobatics & Tumbling as an emerging sport for women this year? 

“It meant a lot because Fairmont State was one of the schools that helped start Acrobatics & Tumbling. So, for the NCAA to recognize all of the hard work that all of us women put into it, it was a huge empowerment movement for women in itself. We wanted something, we worked really hard for it, and we achieved it. Our goal was finally reached, and we were finally able to be heard and understood – We accomplished our dream. We literally started something from scratch and now everyone is hearing about it. It was/is awesome.” 

Your former head coach  Kristi Kiefer  pioneered the sport of Acrobatics & Tumbling right here at Fairmont State 10 years ago. What does it mean to be a part of that? 

“To me, it’s a privilege to be going to a university that helped start a sport that so many people will now pursue when looking to be a student-athlete in college. It means a lot to me to be able to say that my school was one of the first few that started this program because it’s a growing sport still. We have 33 Acrobatics & Tumbling teams around the country now and it’s only going to keep going up. So, it’s a huge honor to be able to say that I’m from Fairmont State and that my old coach helped create Acrobatics & Tumbling.” 

Can you describe what the transition has been like thus far to have former assistant coach  Danielle Cutri  take over as head coach? 

“It’s been a breeze. Danielle is the type of person that is always there for everyone whether that’s on the mat or off the mat. Her word she likes to use is “love.” She wants everyone to love everyone. She wants everyone to have respect for everyone. She’s the type of person who is always positive and she wants you to be positive. If you have anything going on, you can go to her and she will completely understand it and she’ll put you first. She’s the same person now as she was when she was an assistant coach. She’s there for everyone and I love her.” 

Your team was 4-0 last season before the season was cut short due to COVID-19. Can you describe what that was like? 

“To me it was almost discouraging because for our sport we don’t just workout in the fall or in the spring, we workout, condition, and train fall into spring. Therefore, we put a lot of work into being able to have a really good season. In addition, our team was a lot smaller last year so we had to work extremely hard to be able to get to where we were at 4-0. Being cut short was really discouraging because we worked so hard in hopes of winning another MEC Championship and go to nationals and be nationally-ranked again. It was really hard to deal with because we weren’t expecting it at all. If it wasn’t for my teammates and my coaches, I don’t know if I would’ve bounced back from it.” 

What’s it like to perform in an emerging sport? 

“It’s exhilarating. It’s something I never personally thought I was going to be a part of. I’m so excited that I am because my whole life I was a gymnast, so to be able to be a part of something that is new was different for me. Being able to explain my sport that I do know to people, it’s so exciting because everyone knows what gymnastics is but not everyone knows what Acrobatics & Tumbling is. To be able to explain it, explain the history of it, and say that I was a part of it, it’s awesome. It’s almost life-changing. People don’t realize how much that can mean to someone.” 

Can you describe your relationships with teammates and other coaches? 

“I was actually on the team with Coach Karah (Naples) and Coach Haley (Cochran), so I got to compete with them as teammates. We got to know each other as teammates, and now they’re my coaches. I already have that bond with them and that will never really go away. To see them grow from athletes to coaches is really cool to me. Coach Ryan (DeMary) always knows what to say to get me to do my skills.”

“As for teammates, I love them all. There’s not one teammate that I don’t like. One to point out would be  Sophia Del Greco  because anytime I’m having a hard practice or if I’m a little bit scared to tumble, she’s always right there in my corner cheering me on. My teammates all play a different role in my life. That’s why it’s such a great team sport because there’s not just one or two people that help out, everyone helps out in a different way. The whole team is so understanding and loving, and I could just keep going on and on.” 

How much of a team sport is Acrobatics & Tumbling? 

“100 percent. It’s all team sport from the moment you walk out there on the mat. It’s not like gymnastics where you’re the only one out there on the mat. You go out whether it’s with four other people or 23 other people. You’re constantly going out on the mat with teammates that are there to encourage you and lift you up and give you the confidence that you don’t necessarily have in yourself. We don’t call this ‘my sport.’ It’s a team sport and everyone is there to help each other and pick each other up… because that’s what makes it cheerful and happy not stressful and hard.” 

How would you describe the culture of your team? 

“I want to say fun, exciting, outgoing, and very determined. My team is the type of team that, when an obstacle is thrown their way, they don’t just give up. They find seven different ways to figure out how to get through that obstacle, and we don’t do it by ourselves. We do it together. We’re a close-knit family.” 

What does it mean to you to be a Falcon? 

“For me being a Falcon is an honor and privilege because not a lot of people are able to be student-athletes. Coming to Fairmont State, it’s not really easy but it’s really rewarding when you come here and you know your professors, you know the president, you know the coaches, you know everyone so close that it’s really easy for you to soar here and be really successful. It makes me extremely proud [to be a Falcon] and happy that I chose to be one in the first place. I’m never going to regret it. It’s my home away from home. It’s my second family.” 

What are your expectations for this spring? 

“I want to compete so bad. This is my senior season and I’ve been trying to get all my newcomers to understand the importance of it. One of my big expectations would be to win another MEC Conference title. We are more than capable of it and I want everyone to be able to experience that feeling. It is exhilarating. I hope we get to compete… and go to nationals.” 

Have you been able to stay engaged and connected with coaches and teammates during this time with restrictions? 

“Yes. My coaches made it very easy to stay connected to them. They made it known that we could reach out to them at any time, any place. We still had group chats that we would use to communicate [with our teammates], whether it was workouts, tumbling, or just wanting to talk to each other.” 

What has it been like for you as a student with online classes, masks, and precautions? 

“It’s very difficult to change how you once did everything. Online schooling is a lot different than in-person. I’m an in-person type of learner so it was a big change for me. As for the masks, I don’t really mind it because it’s just going to help benefit me and my health, as well as everyone that I love around me. But, the one thing that I found out that is really hard to do with a mask is to workout and to tumble. But that’s just something we have to get used to.” 

How motivated or anxious are you to compete right now? 

“I’m so motivated. I have all my motivation from last season that’s just bottled up. I’m ready for spring. I know all the incoming freshmen are just going to love it.” 

Any activities/interests outside of school and sports? 

“I’m a huge people person. I love to do anything outdoors. I love doing stuff with my family more than anything. I love to water ski. My family grew up on the water. I love hanging out with my friends, my family, and my teammates.” 

Major: Political Science & National Security and Intelligence; Minor in History. Expected graduation: Spring 2021. Future plans? 

“I’m going to get further schooling whether that’s law school or just a Master’s. And I’ll probably work for the government.” 

What do you want people to know about you? 

“I’m the type of person that is always there to help. It might seem like I’m intimidating, but I’m the most loving, caring person that you’ll meet. I care about other people more than I care about myself. I just want them to know I’m approachable and I’m always here to help.”