Written by JULIA LEVINE
Lacie Saltzmann needed some extra room in her carry-on bag when she returned to Dallas from Argentina earlier this month. The 15-year-old artistic gymnast had to find space for five medals after winning three golds and two silvers for Maccabi USA at the 2023 Pan American Maccabi Games.
Saltzmann qualified for the Elite program, the highest level of gymnastics, two years ago and competed in the 2023 Xfinity U.S. Gymnastics Championships in August. In Argentina four months later, she excelled at the Cenard Hub in the Junior A Division.
But this success might not have been possible if it weren’t for her coach, Kim Zmeskal, one of the most decorated female gymnasts in U.S. history. The two met three years ago when Saltzmann moved from Charlotte to Dallas to train with Zmeskal, a 3-time U.S. National Champion, an Olympic Bronze medalist, and the first American to win the all-around at a World Gymnastics Championship in 1991.
Although Zmeskal is not Jewish, she still traveled to Argentina to support Saltzmann and her passionate drive to compete. Kim also has strong ties to several other Jewish gymnasts. She roomed with Kerri Strug during her career and judged Aly Raisman in competitions. Zmeskal could “see the positive impact that [Judaism] had on the… groundedness of them as people.”
As for Saltzmann, Zmeskal knows, “this is a huge thing for her to be a part of the Maccabi Games. This is a different environment than what we have been accustomed to.”
“This experience in particular,” Saltzmann said, “has really connected me to my Jewish identity at a time like this. It’s not just about me, it’s about so much more than that. And like I just feel so blessed to have the opportunity to represent not only America but what the people of Israel are fighting for.”
“This sport defines so many people. It is their life. And I want it to stand for something more than that. I’m Jewish. I am smart. I am talented. And there’s so much more than being in the gym,” Saltzmann added. “And I think having coaches that support that is just so big.”
Now that the Games are over, both Saltzmann and Zmeskal are looking ahead.
“She has huge goals, technically,” Zmeskal noted, in terms of learning skills. “She wants to win meets. She wants to be a great teammate. She has huge college ambitions as well.”
After earning five Pan American Maccabi medals, Saltzmann is thinking about competing in the 2025 Maccabiah and it sounds like Zmeskal will again be by her side. “We’re looking forward to Israel,” Zmeskal said, “and how important it is for her. I feel honored that she wants me to be a part of it as well.”
While competing is important to Saltzmann, it’s clear that the Jewish component of these Games have made a huge impact. “It’s been great getting to train with other Jewish athletes who share the same values,” Saltzmann said.
As for Saltzmann’s Judaism, she said, “I unapologetically wear that like it doesn’t matter what happens. I am proud to be Jewish.”