Lisa Zeis Benedict
The physical and mental demands of gymnastics often preclude lengthy careers. In the case of women’s gymnastics, world-class competitors dazzle at an early age, only to fade with the approach of adulthood. Cheektowaga’s Lisa Zeis proved an exception to this rule, as she not only crossed international boundries, but defied the boundries of time, as she dominated her chosen sport in various arenas for over 15 years.
Competitive life began for Lisa at age 7, and she progressed quickly under the tutelage of outstanding coaches such as Al Stumpf and Peter and Cindy Sielski. Zeis was one of only a handful of local “elite” gymansts at that age, and her talent and dedication primed the youngster for the successes to follow, beginning with Niagara AAU Junior Olympic Championships from 1972-75.
By 1978, the 13-year old Zeis was the only elite gymnast in New York State, and the opportunity to shine knocked with the inaugural Empire State Games. Lisa dominated her sport, and her five gold medals outpaced all other competitors at the Games. Lisa compteted in the Empire State Games until 1981, and with 29 total medals (24 gold), still ranks near the top in all-time medal winners in any sport in that competition.
Lisa enjoyed her many international competitions, as the talented Europeans brought out the best in her and her teamates. She vaulted into the worldwide spotlight as a member of the US World Games Team (1981), the World University Games Team (1983), the 1980 US Olympic Team (as an alternate), and US National Gymnastics Team (1977-83).
While gymanstics at its essence is an individual challenge, it was team support and encouragement which brought meaning to the sport for Lisa. The desire to continue competing in that concept brought her to Arizona State on a full athletic scholarship as the nation’s top gymnastics recruit in 1981. Zeis’ accomplishments at ASU were astounding. A four-time All-American, Zeis punctuated her collegiate career with the 1985 NCAA title in the balance beam event, and the 1986 national title in the floor exercise event. After graduation, Lisa stayed on at Arizona State as their first full-time assistant gymnastics coach.
Zeis is a member of the Empire State Games Hall of Fame, as well as the Arizona State University Hall of Fame. Tonight, this exceptional globe-trotting competitor gains a well-deserved share of recognition from her hometown with induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.