This is the fourth of a series of 20 profiles of The Gazette’s Best and Brightest Class of 2019.

Four years ago, Anna Kemper was practicing gymnastics. She had done the vault mount countless times, but this time tripped over a mat and crashed into the springboard. The impact broke and dislocated her elbow and tore ligaments, ending her dream of becoming a gymnast at the Air Force Academy.

“It was devastating,” she says. “I had already dedicated eight years to the sport. I felt I had lost my identity and purpose and even friendships.”

During months of recuperation, she was in emotional and physical turmoil. Eventually, she realized that attending the academy was still possible and represented much more than gymnastics.

She dedicated herself to her studies, met new friends, and tried new things. Last year, she joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary where she learned about the national Wreaths Across America event. As a school student council officer, she suggested that the school participate. The council raised money to decorate 100 veterans’ graves. She also had more time for literature, art and poetry and has won Poetry Out Loud recitals several times, and displayed work in a school art show.

Her mother suggested she try swimming. Kemper took to diving as passionately as she had gymnastics. “It is similar except you land on you head instead of your feet, and water is usually more forgiving,” she laughed.

Best and Brightest: Physical limitations inspires student to reach for the stars

She conquered her fear of failure and the more visceral fear of smacking into the water or hitting the diving board. Her coach recalled how at one of her first meets, she had a horrible warm-up, but with grit ended up a finalist. Over time, she kept persevering and learning, and, while sick, found a way at one meet to be in the top 16 out of 400 in the state. She has won many meets, set a school record, finished twice in the top four at the State Championship in Class 5A, recently placing third.

She has been accepted to the Air Force Academy and is thrilled she will be on the diving team. While she was growing up, her parents had often participated in the Cadet Sponsor Program, providing “home away from home” events for cadets. “I was impressed by the cadets’ dedication to country, to something greater than themselves and I wanted to do that,” Kemper said. She will follow in the footsteps of her father, who also attended the academy.

Her faith has been a vital part of who she is, she said, “very central to my heart.” For several years, she has volunteered at her church ‘s nonprofit café, the proceeds of which support missionary trips.

Recently at The Classical Academy, she gave her Capstone Defense of Learning presentation. Graduating students take what they learned in high school and apply it to a chosen topic, presenting it orally before a panel of teachers and answering tough questions about it. She chose the topic, What it Means to be Human.

“I argued humanity is in the image of God and we are defined by our responses to suffering in mind, body and spirit.”

She hopes to become a medical doctor, do stem cell research, or be a pilot. “ But I’m going in with an open heart so God can direct me where I will serve best.”

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