Newport senior Anna Bencke was a successful level 9 gymnast, but injuries and the loss of her father to pancreatic cancer in 2017 forced her to reevaluate her competitive gymnastics career.
“Doing gymnastics for that long over so many years is really hard on the body,” Bencke said. “I had knee surgery in 2016, I herniated a disk last year and I had wrist surgery this June. So my body has been beaten a little bit and I was at a point where I was like, ‘If I keep doing this, my body is going to be a little messed up for the rest of my life.’ Then my dad died and it kind of hit me at a point that I think it’s time for me to move on and focus on some other things in life too.”
Not wanting to step away from the sport she has loved since she was 3 years old, Bencke joined the gymnastics team at Newport High School in her junior year.
“I still get to do what I love, but I also get to focus on academics and I can have extracurricular activities that aren’t gymnastics for four-and-a-half hours every day,” Bencke said. “So I’ve gotten to expand who I am as a person.”
Most of Bencke’s junior season was spent getting healthier from a back injury, but that didn’t keep her from being at practice and being a part of the team.
“I always find something to keep busy,” Bencke said. “If my wrist is injured, I’m doing front tumbling on floor and I’m doing a million drills, I’m doing handstands, I’m doing anything I can just to keep my body moving. As long as my body is moving, I’m pretty happy.”
Because of her injury, Bencke was able to spend more of her practice time mentoring teammates.
“It’s so much fun to be able to show them all of the drills that helped me learn the skills that I have now and being able to encourage the girls who are so excited about gymnastics,” Bencke said. “I love seeing the excitement in other people, because that’s what I have too.”
Bencke got healthy enough to compete on bars and beam toward the end of last season, just in time to compete at districts and state, leading the Knights to a first-place team finish at districts and third place at state.
Competing again was a special feeling for Bencke, who has also loved to compete in front of the judges.
“It’s the most amazing feeling ever,” Bencke said. “I love competing. There are two different kinds of gymnasts, those who absolutely dread competing, and those who live for the moment. I feel like all the hard work I put in comes out and I’m able to show it in front of everyone, the judges, my family, my coaches, my teammates and to really feel like I’m back on track.”
Going into the first meet of her senior season, Bencke wasn’t planning on competing in the all-around competition after getting wrist surgery over the summer. At practice about a week before the season-opening meet, Bencke decided to try her vault for the first time in six months.
“I hadn’t been planning on competing vault in our first meet and I ended up landing the first one that I did and I was like, ‘That’s the last thing that I needed. I actually might be able to compete this next week,’” Bencke said.
In her first time competing in the all-around as a high school gymnast, Bencke finished second in the all-around behind teammate Bella Nilsen at their first meet of the season against Inglemoor on Dec. 4. Bencke had an all-around score of 35.95, including finishing first on vault (9.3), first on beam (8.9) and tied for first on floor (9.55).
In the second meet, Bencke won the all-around with a combined score of 37.3 (9.75 on floor, 9.5 on beam and a 9.25 on vault) to help lead Newport to a 170-160 victory over Bothell on Dec. 12.
Bencke said she never could have imagined how much fun it is to compete in the all-around in high school.
“It’s a lot different than what I was used to in competitive gymnastics, like the way the meets work and everything,” Bencke said. “It’s a system that is really working for me and I’m so glad I’ve actually healed enough to compete this year. I was a little worried this summer that it wouldn’t happen.”
As she embarks on her senior season, Bencke has plenty of goals. For the first time in years, Bencke is hoping to consistently compete in the all-around. After getting a taste of the state tournament last season, Bencke is eager to help lead the Knights back to the tournament in the team competition. At the tournament, Bencke also wants to take part in the event finals.
“(Event finals was) something I wasn’t able to participate in last year because I was not healthy enough to be at that level,” Bencke said. “I think with the track that I’m on this year, I’m hoping that state event finals is something I can compete in and hopefully do well in.”
Bencke said the energy in high school gymnastics is different than what she was used to in competitive gymnastics.
“It’s a more encouraging and uplifting environment to be in,” Bencke said. “The whole team is so supportive, especially at meets, it’s a huge difference. I competed on a team with three girls for a couple of years and that’s way different than having like 20 people whose sole job at that moment is to cheer for you.”
While the gymnastics experience varies from former competitive gymnastics to people who have never touched a bar, Bencke said there is one constant, they all want to be there.
“Everyone who is here, chooses to be here and chooses to get better,” Bencke said. “In competitive gymnastics, it’s a lot of, ‘I’ve been doing this forever, so I guess I’ll keep doing it.’”
Now that she doesn’t have the grueling practice schedule of a competitive gymnast, Bencke is making use of any free time she has. Along with singing in the Newport choir, Bencke also volunteers at a middle school in Renton as a math tutor. She also runs a girls math club for middle school students.
“It’s so exciting,” Bencke said. “We see some fresh faces, girls who really want to learn math in a place where they feel like they’re not being held down by all the boys who are yelling out answers, because there are 12 year old boys who like to do that.”
Bencke and the Newport gymnastics team are back on the competition floor for a three-team meet against North Creek and Mount Si on Jan. 7 at Mount Si High School.
The Reporter asked Bencke a series of questions to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into her life:
What kind of music are you listening to?
My music varies so much. Sometimes I listen to really hard rap, today I was listening to country music, but then last week I was listening to Christmas music. Honestly, I’ll listen to almost anything, except for jazz. I did a jazz choir camp over the summer once and it was honestly not the most fun experience I’ve ever had.
What is your dream vacation?
I want to go to Machu Picchu and do a whole three-week backpacking trip and get up to Machu Picchu and see all the llamas, that would be amazing. I also want to go to Santorini in Greece and lay on the beach for a couple of weeks and just escape. Then, I also really want to go to Belgium. During Christmas time they do these little Christmas festivals and all the streets are full of vendors and they’ve got authentic Belgian waffles. It’s beautiful and I really want to go during Christmas time. So all three of those in a row.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Slow drivers. I just feel like I need to get places. I’m someone who is always 10 or 15 minutes early to everything, even when there’s no need to be. I’m a very safe driver though, I promise.
What is your favorite food?
My mom makes the best homemade pasta sauce and it’s just plain tomato sauce but it’s the most delicious thing you will ever taste. That with angel hair pasta and bleu cheese. I have a Tupperware at home full of it right now and that’s what I’m going to eat after practice today. I’m so excited.