Written by Duane Cochran
By the time Makenzie Adamek was three years old her parents, Tom and Gina Adamek, had seen enough.
Enough running, enough tumbling and enough jumping off and on things around the house to enroll her in gymnastics. Nineteen years later Adamek is one of the senior leaders on Fairmont State University's undefeated Acrobatics and Tumbling Team which will tangle with undefeated and defending national champion Baylor University Monday evening at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
Adamek, a native of Harrison City, Pa. which is located about 30 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, has always been a do-it-all type of individual. She remained a gymnast advancing to compete as high as Level 9 early in her high school years before turning her attention exclusively to all-star competitive cheerleading.
"I liked gymnastics and all-star cheerleading because I love to compete," said Adamek, who graduated from Penn Trafford High School in 2014. "There was a time when I was doing both, but after a year or so that got to be a little too much so I switched to just competitive cheer. I never cheered in high school for Penn Trafford because at the time I was in high school they didn't compete. It was only sideline cheer. That's changed now.
"I loved gymnastics, but it was more of an individual sport. Floor and beam were my favorites, especially floor because of the tumbling. All-star competitive cheerleading was fun and different because it was a team sport. It taught me a lot about being part of a team."
When it came time for Adamek to consider a choice for college she began being recruited for acrobatics and tumbling – a sport she admittedly knew very little about. She verbally committed to a school, but before signing anything decided to weigh all of her options.
"Once I started to learn more about the sport I decided it would be in my best interest to weigh all of my options," she said. "I hadn't really heard of Fairmont State before, but it wasn't too far from home and I knew they had a pretty good program so I decided to make a visit here. The minute I walked into the gym here I loved it. The atmosphere was great. The girls on the team were great and to me it just felt like a second home. I knew this was where I wanted to be."
Adamek signed with Fairmont State in 2014 and competed for the Falcons during the 2015 season. That year FSU was led by four seniors Danielle DiCarlo, Angela Viscount, Allison Rogers and Jenn Clymer and hosted the NCATA National Championships at the Joe Retton Arena.
"That senior class was really special because as freshmen coming in they all really made us feel welcome and a part of the team," Adamek said. "Plus, they were all so good. Honestly, to me it was kind of intimidating, but they really helped me and all of us freshmen transition into the sport.
"I was really intrigued by A&T. It was like the perfect combination of gymnastics and competitive cheer. You've got the tumbling part of gymnastics, but you also are putting up stunts in the air. I knew I wasn't going to go to a D-II school for gymnastics, so for me it was a happy medium."
Adamek began her career as a flyer, tumbler and counter for the Falcons, but over time has expanded her role on the squad to include being a front spotter and a base in different events.
"I have tried to expand my role for our team just so it gives us some versatility with other members of our team to do other things," Adamek said. "I don't think people understand how much time we spend in the weight room. In the off season we lift like five days a week and then practice. It takes that much time to perfect what we do. I remember when I first got here I couldn't lift the bar in the weight room and I was sore for like a month after first lifting. Now I'm so much stronger.
"Going into my junior year I felt I could do more. I said 'I can catch her or I can lift her up in this stunt.' Doing that has also given me even more respect for the girls on our team who do that on a regular basis."
Adamek's ability to expand her role on the team over time has earned her the respect of both her teammates and the coaching staff.
"Kenz plays a huge role for us on this team because she does a little bit of everything for us," said fellow FSU senior base Haley Cochran. "Anywhere we need her, she's there. She's a really good motivator. She can be serious and get you on track or she can make everyone laugh and crack up the whole practice. She's really our go-to person on this team.
"Even (head coach) Kristi (Kiefer) relies on and talks to Kenz a lot. She helps her organize things and handle different situations. She's the first one who will step up and take the lead for our team."
Kiefer, the Falcons' eighth-year coach, agrees.
"Kenz is a really good utility person for us," Kiefer said. "She goes wherever we need her. She has the ability to do a lot of different things for us.
"She's also a very good leader. She leads by example, but also isn't afraid to speak up when the situation calls for it. I like her approach to leadership. She doesn't demand it, but has earned it more through respect. She's also very reliable, responsible, dependable and organized. She helps me a lot."
Adamek was one of 13 freshmen for the Falcons in 2014-15. Now only six of the original 13 remain and Adamek has proven over time to be a reliable talent for the squad.
"The thing about Kenz is she's a pretty fierce competitor," FSU senior base Kayla Simpson said. "You watch her in tumbling and she always starts with her hands out in a gymnast pose, then runs and somehow she always manages to stick her landings. I don't know that I've ever seen her fall. The one thing with her we all know we can count on is that every meet she brings her 'A' game.
"We came in as members of a pretty big freshmen class and now over half of them are gone, but those of us that stayed have really seen this sport grow and the talent level on our team get better and better each year. Kenz is a great example of that. She only did certain things for us at first, but has really expanded to fill a lot of different roles for us now. In addition, she's a great leader for us. She's very good with the younger girls."
Adamek says being one of the leaders for the Falcons is an earned honor she takes seriously.
"Since I've been here we've always had great senior leaders," Adamek said. "It's kind of an earned right when you get to your senior season to lead this team and this year I feel like one of my roles as a leader is to help our younger girls learn the sport, respect it and understand it. There's nothing like this sport until you get to college. You can't compete in anything like this in high school.
"I remember coming in how much I had to learn about it and how much the seniors and upperclassmen helped me each year. That's what I've tried to do with our younger girls. Sometimes someone will get taken out of something and as a freshman you don't realize at this particular time it's what's best for the team. They think they're done forever and they're upset. That's not the case. I just try to keep them positive, motivated, focused and just ease things for them. I try to always be available to listen and offer advice."
Adamek has a 3.65 grade point average and is a business major at Fairmont State who will graduate this May. In the short off season of acro and tumbling she spends a wealth of time helping her mother, Gina, run Legend Athletics a gym in Irwin, Pa. specializing in gymnastics and all-star competitive cheerleading that the Adameks own and began operating 10 or so years ago.
"I don't think I'd be at Fairmont if it wasn't for my mom opening the gym or without the support of my mom, dad and my brother (Tommy, who is 25)," Adamek said. "They've been to almost every meet during my career and they love it. They understand it's a sport which is different and unique and they've really come to appreciate it. As an athlete when you have that kind of support from your family it means everything."
She also says having the chance to compete in college in an up and coming sport which has grown every year since it came into existence in 2011 has been a unique and priceless opportunity.
"The experience for me here at Fairmont has been great," Adamek said. "I've made lifelong friends here. It's hard to believe this is my senior year. We spend so much time together it's hard not to be close. We practice so much, we take a lot of trips and we have the somewhat unique experience of competing against some Division I programs like Baylor, Oregon and Quinnipiac.
"Even when we're not together as a team, we're together as friends. A lot of us live with each other and we spend a lot of time together just hanging out when we're not at practice or in class. Over time we've developed a special bond and for that I'll always be thankful."
Fairmont State's 3-0 start this season is the best for the team since the 2014-15 squad began the year 3-0.