In Search Of..An All American Girl

A La Crosse gymnast is the best there's ever been at the La Crosse YMCA

With all of the trophies and banners displayed around the gymnastics center at the La Crosse YMCA, it’s hard to miss the signs of success. “I think we’ve done extremely well,” says head coach Patrick Long. “I’ve been here a long time and we have 20 state championships in just levels 8 & 9”

With 70 plus gymnasts at the competition level and three to four hundred little ones working their way up, it’s not surprising there’ve been a few stand outs over the years. “I’ve had a lot of kids that make me look good'” says Long. “Just incredible athletes and I just love them to death and still keep in touch with them. One of my level 9 gymnasts I used to coach their mom.” 

But in his more than 20 years with the program Coach Long has never had an athlete quite like this one. When 18-year-old Kaitlyn Ganrude started gymnastics at the age of seven, no one would have pegged her a future star. Her mom Deena Ganrude recalls, “Thinking back and jarring my memory the reason I really took her to gymnastics was because she was so clutzy. She’d trip over a crack and I thought she needs help!”

She first joined a gym called the ‘Matinee’ on French Island attending a few practices a week and the skills just came naturally. By 8-years-old she was competing and winning at level three, totally skipped level four and in the middle of 6th grade transferred to the YMCA’s program.

She flew through levels, 5, 6 and 7. “She just wanted to be really good,” says dad Randy. And the better she did, the better she wanted to be, a quality Coach Long knew would take her far. “Her love for the sport and the way her brain works. You have to be able to absorb the bad stuff with the good stuff and that’s what she does easily. Most of the time she is not fazed by setbacks. It’s the best I’ve ever had.”

The summer before her freshman year of high school Kaitlyn qualified for nationals at level 9, keep in mind Olympians compete at level 10. Of the hundreds of girls that qualified, Kaitlyn finished in the top 10 earning her the title ‘All American.’  “I placed 10th all-around so I just barely made it! The second year I got 9th. I got 4th place last year and that was pretty fun.” 

Going in to day two at this year’s National competition Kaitlyn was in second place by tenths. She nailed her vault to start the day. “Then I moved on to bars and did the routine I wanted to do. I was like two events down.”

Her mom gets nervous still thinking about the day. “Then she got to the beam and of course I had to walk away. It’s just, oh my gosh my heart was pounding…”

Kaitlyn knew she needed to stick the routine. “The minute she landed the tuck you’re like ‘yes!'”

Long was by her side every step of the way. “Her last event was floor. And she went immediately to her phone and was punching in all the numbers.”

“I knew they posted the scores and there was really only one other girl I needed to worry about.  And I added up day one and day two and did it about five times!

Long adds, “Kaitlyn looks at me and I said ‘did you do it?’ And she said yeah.” Mom and dad were in shock. “I go ‘no way!'” Kaitlyn says it was hard to process. “I won nationals. It’s a feeling you can’t really describe I guess.”

Long was beaming when he added, “I’m extremely proud. I never thought. I knew she’d be an All-American again but to be number one in the nation, I never even dreamt it. And I still don’t believe it!”

Kaitlyn heads off to college next week the National Champion, which is why her next move is also hard to believe. “I plan to go to UW-L and right now my major is underclared and I plan to run track and field there!”

That’s right, the outstanding gymnast is also outstanding on the track. “She qualified for three events at state this year.”

She tries to explain her decision to give up gymnastics. “I’ve just done gymnastics for so long and track I’ve only done since 7th grade and I just want to experience it more. It is hard to walk away because it’s something I have done every day for the last 10 years of my life. And mostly I will just miss my teammates and my coach.”

“It’s very difficult,” says long getting emotional. “Knowing Kaitlyn she will be around and encouraging our gymnast. They all miss her and I miss her.”

This transition is also tough on Kaitlyn’s parents. “Here’s this 7-year-old starting gymnastics and to watch her grow every year and all of a sudden she’s a level 9 in the Y system. I’m so proud and its been such a joy watching her.”

Deena adds, “I am very, very proud of her but not just gymnastics, but everything she has done. Academically she’s been wonderful, track. Everything she’s done she’s given 100 percent.”

She may not be a part of this program anymore, but no doubt her achievements will be seen by every little klutzy gymnast that walks through the door.  “I want them to know they can do it too because I was one of those girls that looked up to gymnasts and wondered how I can do it. I hope I can inspire them.”