Jessen joins older brother at Stanford
When you look at Sandra Jessen’s family, you don’t have to wonder why she has turned to gymnastics. You would only say, why wouldn’t she?
Jessen’s mom and an older brother have both excelled at the sport and helped Sandra to develop her skills, which will take her to Stanford University next fall where her brother David Jessen currently competes as a senior in gymnastics and represented the Czech Republic at the Olympics in 2016.
Jessen’s mother, Hana Ricna-Jessen, was born in the former Czechoslovakia and was an Olympic qualifier in gymnastics in both 1984 and 1988. In the world championships, Ricna-Jessen won a silver medal in the beam competition in 1983 and a bronze on the uneven bars in 1985.
In addition to his stint in the Olympics, David Jessen also has a pommel horse skill that is named after him, called simply The Jessen. He executed the move in the 2019 Apparatus World Cup and the skill was added to the Code of Points for the horse shortly thereafter.
“They’ve obviously been a big influence and I’ve always looked up to that,” said Sandra Jessen. “Our family always jokes that I started gymnastics before I was even born because my mom was leading warm-ups while she was pregnant with me.”
Her older brother also played a hand in getting her to Stanford. Through visits to the school, she discovered the beautiful surroundings. From listening to her brother talk about the school, she was pretty much sold on where she wanted to attend college. She did check out a couple of other schools, including Penn State, but Stanford won out.
“It’s just a beautiful campus and the weather is great,” said Jessen. “They also have a great pre-med program, which is what I wanted to major in, so the combination of that with the gymnastics and the whole environment was what sold me.”
While she loves all phases of gymnastics, she puts the vault, floor exercises and the bars as her top events that she hopes to compete in at Stanford.
She has never really felt too much pressure at being the daughter and the sibling of Olympians in the same sport that she competes in and has always looked at it as a source of pride. She has the same approach going to Stanford, even though her older brother set the bar pretty high with his college accomplishments.
“I’ve always looked up to both of them and I am so proud of everything that they accomplished,” she said. “People bring it up, but that’s been going on for years, so I’m used to it and I’m proud of them.”
Looking back on her last five seasons that have been spent as part of the Parkettes program in Allentown, Jessen says that she will always value the team aspect of the program and how she and her teammates always bonded to get each other through the difficult days. She’s also looking forward to competing against her current teammate and classmate at Parkland, Jada Mangahas, who will be attending Arizona State University. The two schools meet at least once each season in gymnastics.
“It’s going to be different, but we’ll still be encouraging each other and cheering each other on,” said Jessen. “She helped guide me through some of the college stuff and we’ve been friends, so I’m always looking for her to do well.”