Hidden Heroes: Jessica Drenth


Andrea Maldonado, Sports Reporter

AMES — To build a D1 athletics team takes a lot of hard work, talent and dedication. However, once the roster-building process is complete, the magic of maintaining everyone’s health runs completely behind the scenes, and sometimes it’s easy for the outside world to disregard the immense responsibility athletic trainers have within a team. 

In the field of health, recovery and well-being, athletic trainer Jessica Drenth has been the heart of Iowa State gymnastics for the past 13 years. 

A young dream

Back in Decorah, Iowa, Drenth maintained a busy schedule in middle school and high school. She participated in several sports like basketball, volleyball, softball and track and field as a thrower. 

Once it was time to make a decision to pick a major in college, Drenth was certain that she wanted to go into the medical side of sports, but she was aware that she had some room to venture between athletic training and physical therapy. 

During her first few years in college, Drenth got to experience both fields, and while physical therapy had a steady pace and higher financial opportunities, it all came down to what truly made her happy. 

“There were so many things about athletic training that are undervalued and unique that really fed my soul more than financial benefit,” Drenth said.

How it all unfolded

Drenth’s undergraduate career took three years from 2007-2010. During her senior year, her rotations aligned with gymnastics where she participated as a student athletic trainer for an entire year. 

After graduation, Drenth went back home, giving herself an opportunity to really think about what she wanted to do. 

Finally, it all came to her in January 2011 when Drenth received a call from the Iowa State gymnastics program to fill in for the graduate assistant that had recently quit before the season started. Drenth took this opportunity which ultimately led to getting called back again as an intern for the swim team and the gymnastics team for a period of six months. 

Not long after the six months, the opportunities continued to flow like waterfalls, and before Drenth had a chance to realize it, she had gone to graduate school and become the official full-time athletic trainer for Iowa State gymnastics. 

When reflecting on her time as a graduate student, Drenth expressed that this was a key time frame in her life that taught her everything she needed to know in order to become the best version of herself. 

“Leadership, psychology, communication, organization, policies, motivation… the interrelational part was something that is not taught,” Drenth said. “It is experienced.” 

Jessica Drenth has been the athletic trainer for the Iowa State Gymnastics team for the past 12 years. Beyer Hall, April 17. (Jacob Rice)

Impacting her surroundings

Drenth has had many experiences that have impacted her personal life. Along with that, she’s been able to make an impact on others around her.

One aspect of Drenth’s life that has had a large impact on both her personal and professional responsibilities is motherhood. Drenth is currently a mom of three kids who have been a part of her professional career because she has made sure to always stay involved and available regardless of the situation. 

When asked about her experience as a mom in her specific work field, Drenth expressed that she has broadened her perspective on raising her own children due to varied experiences working alongside young adults. 

“I approach and treat my kids the way I would want them to be treated in the future,” Drenth said. 

Drenth is also notoriously known for her motherly figure in and out of the gym. Several athletes expressed their deep gratitude for everything Drenth does for them year-round and have even referred to her as their “mom away from home.”

When asking Drenth about this, she mentioned how a lot of the athletes are long way from home and the least she could do is make herself available for them to always have a consistent support system in their collegiate careers. 

“Having Jess around means that you have someone who not only cares for what you do inside the gym but also provides unconditional care for your mental and physical well-being outside of the gym,” senior Natalie Horowitz said. “Regardless of what you might be doing, Jess will always care, just like a mother would.” 

Maddy Langkamp mentioned that Drenth is an outstanding bright light anywhere she stands. The most memorable moments are those of Drenth being the loudest person cheering for everyone on the competition floor. 

“She is louder than anyone, and she always keeps the humor in the forefront,” Langkamp said. 

Moreover, Drenth is a figure of security and understanding in the program. As an athletic trainer, Drenth reassures every individual on the team of their value as people. Whether they are actively participating or not, Drenth recognizes everyone on a personal level beyond their athletic identities. That type of bond with athletes reaches individuals with a sense of purpose. 

Soul driven

When asking individuals to describe Drenth, the first word that came to the conversation was “selfless.” 

“It can be intimidating to meet Jess, but it is only because she’s earned everyone’s respect and she’s seen very highly from everyone around her,” Horowitz said. 

Another prominent characteristic of Drenth would be her transparency. 

Throughout the years, Drenth has witnessed how athletes grow from freshmen to professionals and even as they enter their coaching careers. Many have stayed in contact with Drenth because she continues to be a mentor whose advice is transparent and driven with the best intentions. 

“As an athlete, Jess aided growth, accountability and the strength to push through hard moments,” Haylee Young said. “As a coach, Jess has become my rock, someone who will always be transparent when I’m right or wrong. She is someone I can look to.” 

Athletics has always promoted health, joy and comradery. In retrospect, Drenth expressed that as a former athlete and now an athletic trainer, those are three concepts she works hard to radiate to all the athletes she’s worked with for the past 13 years. Well over her baseline of work ethic, Drenth excels to promote values of independence, empowerment and compassion.

Even in moments of despair, Drenth has been a key component in recovery periods. Injuries are part of every sport, but it’s the attitude and dedication that is put into recovery that will make the biggest difference.

“She was always my biggest fan, always celebrating the small victories and truly holding on to all the details that no one sees behind the scenes,” Horowitz said. “That helped me keep the confidence and motivation alive because she saw something in me that I couldn’t see myself.” 

Jessica Drenth has been the athletic trainer for the Iowa State Gymnastics team for the past 12 years. Beyer Hall, April 17. (Jacob Rice)

Dreams come alive 

The concept of time can be condensed into saying that there is no space for do-overs. Time is fleeting and in many instances can feel like “it flew by.” Drenth explained the beauty of staying in the moment when talking about goals and dreams. 

It’s been 13 years since Drenth embarked on her professional career, and recently she shared that after reaching a certain age, she was finally able to give herself the chance to look back and appreciate all that she’s accomplished so far. 

While staying in the moment is a common perspective used in sports, on many occasions, it’s easier said than done. According to Drenth, being in the heat of things does not provide space to step back and realize the full picture of what is happening. 

“I think about all these milestones that I was anticipating, and after many years I am able to take a breath and be proud of myself,” Drenth said. “I did set my sights on this, and I get to work at a high level, think on my feet, teach at the university, have a relationship with someone I love and create a family.” 

Drenth expressed that while all these things sound like the dream life, in the moment of being a mother to her own children or doing specific things in her daily life, everything feels like chaos. 

“It feels like a lot of things happening all at once, but being able to acknowledge where I am today is one of the things I am most proud of,” Drenth said. 

Core memories

It is expected for an athletic program to have ups and downs, but in most scenarios, the memories that have stuck with Drenth are those of witnessing others be great and achieve their full potential. 

When asked about her favorite moment in her profession, Drenth was not able to list one specific thing. The gratification obtained from seeing others achieve their goals, recovery, academic milestones, All-Americans, relationships and transitions are everything Drenth could ever hope to remember. 

“Picking favorites would be neglecting the overall lessons and opportunities that have come along the way,” Drenth said. “Moments are memories, and you don’t get those back.”

Drenth plans on continuing to work alongside gymnastics as long as there is the opportunity to do so, aiding and supporting future Cyclone gymnasts. 

“Even [during] the hard years, the people make everything wonderful,” Drenth said. “Getting the opportunity to work and meet people from all around the United States and the world has made the experience worth every second.”