At first glance the four-foot-nine Casey Patsula doesn’t catch your attention, but spend some time watching the 14-year-old compete, and all that changes.
She is one of the bright young stars at the Red Deer Exelta Gymnastics Club
“She is one of our most dedicated athletes,” said Exelta girls head coach Barb Bilsborrow. “She takes gymnastics so seriously and comes every day to work hard.”
Patsula got involved in the sport when she was four, competing in the recreation program in Rocky Mountain House. By the time she was six she was travelling to Red Deer to train at the Exelta Club.
“A lot of travelling, but I came here to be competitive, and they have very good coaches here,” she said.
To help eliminate some of that travel time, her family moved into Red Deer in 2015. She attended St. Thomas Aquinas in Grade 8.
It gave her even more time to train as she trains five days a week and also spends time working with the Titans Track Club.
“I started that this year,” she said. “I gained leg strength, and track is fun.”
“She works on her leg power and speed and you notice the difference already,” said Bilsborrow.
The leg strength and speed helps in all four disciplines — floor, beam, bars and vault.
She enjoys the bars the most and the hardest for her is the vault.
“I enjoy the bars because you can do so many skills, but the vault is my weakest,” she said. “Mainly because I’m so short.”
“It does hurt, but she’s powerful and so fast it won’t hinder her as much as she goes along. But her height does make it easier in other events, such as the bars where taller athletes have more difficulty.”
Patsula admires American star Simone Biles, who at only four-foot-eight is the most dominant gymnasts in the world.
Patsula has worked her way up through the different levels and is presently listed at the Junior Olympic Level 8. She’s hoping to reach Level 9 by the end of this year and ultimately Level 10.
“To get to the next level I just have to make sure I get all my skills,” she said. “I hope by the time I graduate I’ll be a Level 10.”
Bilsborrow is looking for her star pupil to make a run at the National level this year.
“She will try out for the National level this year in Montreal. It will be her first attempt and it will be tough to make that stage.”
The national level isn’t at the high performance, a step below.
Bilsborrow would also love to see her qualify for the 2019 Red Deer Canada Winter Games.
“She is certainly one of the candidates and hopefully she can get there.”
Patsula is already working with the Games as a member of the 2019 Canada Games Youth Advisory Committee.
“There’s about 10 of us and we meet and help organize and discuss things what is best for the athletes,” she said.
Casey has a received a number of accolades during her career and has been named most improved and most dedicated several times with the Exelta Club. She also received the most dedicated award at the International Gymnastics Camp in Strausburg, Pa., last summer.
“We’d work on all four events each day and worked on skills,” she said.
She is one who will train as often as the coaches ask and even more.
“I enjoy the training, as much as I can,” she said. “I spend a lot of time on all four events as I try to continue to develop.”
She showed just how far she has developed when she captured the all-round title at the Gym Power Meet at the Capital City Gymnastics Club in Edmonton,
“It was good and helped my confidence,” she added.
She also has a silver medal on the beam at the 2014 Alberta Winter Games and was 18th last spring in the Junior Olympic Level 8 at the Alberta Gymnastics Federation competition.
Patsula is looking to take a step up at the provincial level and qualify for the Westerns.
“The Westerns is my next goal. I tried out last year but didn’t make it.”
But while she continues to develop her own program, Casey also influences many of her teammates.
“She definitely spurs everyone on,” said Bilsborrow. “She tries hard and is so determined to try everything and the younger kids see that and they want to follow her.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can also be seen at Danny’s blog at rdcathletics.ca