By Brandon HENSLEY
From an early age, Jennie Jensen was used to tumbling on a mat, excelling in gymnastics at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA. Tumbling from inside a car after an accident? That’s a whole other deal.
One day, as a student at Crescenta Valley High School, Jensen was driving her family’s VW van on a street just outside the school’s campus. Another car blindsided her, and the van rolled on its side, eventually resting upside down.
When she knew she was going over, Jensen put one hand on the ceiling and the other on the door. She told herself to flip over like she would if she were doing a side flip.
“It was slow motion. I don’t think you realize how scary it is until after you see the car upside down. In the moment I just hoped the windows didn’t smash. I thought, just roll with it,” she said.
The accident wasn’t serious; Jensen was okay.
“I gave the Lord credit,” said Jensen’s mother Gloria. “[Jennie] gave gymnastics credit.”
There’s a lot of credit to be passed around these days for Jensen. On May 16, she was inducted into the Crescenta Valley High School Athletics Hall of Fame at the Chevy Chase Country Club. Jensen, class of 1988, was a gymnast for not only CV, but also USA Gymnastics.
“I felt honored, and a little surprised because I didn’t know CV had a hall of fame,” Jensen said of being inducted. “But I was honored, and proud of my school. I think CV’s the greatest school. I had a great time here.”
In 1986, Jensen dominated CIF athletics. She placed first in floor exercise, balance beam and uneven bars, and was second in vault. Those finishes earned her the title of All-Around Champion. She was named Most Valuable Gymnast for CV’s team and in the Pacific League.
Jensen chose to compete for USA instead of Crescenta Valley her junior year. She earned fourth place in the USA’s Western Region. For her senior year, she returned to the Falcons’ team and won CIF championships in the floor exercise, balance beam and vault.
Jensen remembered the long bus rides to competitions.
“We competed far away. We always had to load the bus. It was a fun bonding time with your teammates because we had an hour, hour and half ride to where we competed,” she said.
Jensen was coached at Crescenta Valley and USA by Laree Martin, who was also inducted last week, along with six others: coach/administrator Ken Biermann, water polo player Chris Axelgard, basketball player Bob Trowbridge, girls’ athletic director Jan McCreery, basketball/baseball player Marc Palmer, soccer/softball player Hope Robertshaw and the CIF-winning 1962 cross-country team.
Jensen graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in nursing. She lives in Draper, Utah with her husband David Bethers and their four children. Jensen is currently a part-time insulin nurse at an elementary school.
Gloria and her husband Joe are originally from Utah. They moved to Southern California under Joe’s promise they would be here for four years. It turned into 42 years.
During her speech presenting Jensen, McCreery said the Jensens built a family dynasty at CV. Joe was a teacher during the first years of CV’s existence. Gloria’s sister, Trudy Winthrop, wrote the lyrics to the school’s alma mater.
Jensen’s siblings, four sisters and two brothers, also competed in sports at CV. Sisters Julie and Cherie were gymnasts in the ’70s and early ’80s, and Bonnie was a gymnast but could not compete when she came to CV in 1970, because volleyball was the only sport available for girls.
Gloria and Joe have moved back to Utah to be closer to the entire Jensen clan, who live in Utah and Colorado. Gloria and Joe have six children and many grandchildren.
“People asked, why would you want to live in that cold climate when you can live in beautiful California?” Gloria said. “I said, I can give you 37 reasons, and they’re all grandchildren.”
Jensen enjoyed coming home this week.
“It’s beautiful. I forgot how beautiful the valley is,” she said.
Gloria was also happy to be back. She and her family attended the open house at CV, held a couple of hours before the induction ceremony. She and Joe took photos in the gym with their children, with Jensen in the center.
“I’m extremely proud,” Gloria said of Jensen. “Not just for gymnastics. She’s a wonderful daughter and a wonderful wife to David, and a wonderful mother to her four children. It’s what you dream of – having a child that is genuinely a great person.”
Jim Jordan was an inductee in 2013 for his accomplishments as a cross-country runner in the early 1960s. He was happy, though, that his entire team would finally be recognized this year.
“It was a fairytale. When we started Crescenta Valley in 1960, there were only 10th graders,” he said. “We had no tradition, no history. No runners that came before us to learn from.”
Two years later, in 1962, Jordan and his team won the school’s first ever CIF championship. The team was coached by John Barnes, who took a bunch of inexperienced runners and taught them about proper training, including rest and diet.
But the team also had to deal with the school’s shortcomings when it came to facilities. Being a brand new school, there was no defined track outlining a football field like there is now. It was simply a giant dirt field. Jordan said the boys grabbed four 40-pound trashcans and outlined a makeshift track for them to run around.
It wasn’t just the lack of a track.
“We made our own weights. It was like a Disney movie. There was no weight room,” Jordan said.
During the first couple of years, Jordan said he and his team would show up to meets and be in awe of the great teams like Downey. But in 1962, the Falcons had become a force to be reckoned with, and teams started looking impressively at them.
CV boys’ cross-country has since won one other CIF title, in 1981.