When Sandra Casaus started out as a physical trainer, she said she was extremely intimidated.
She was almost ready to graduate from Eldorado High, where she excelled in volleyball, basketball, and track and field. Still, the thought of exercise science made her cringe. She much prefers to rely on her positive personality and the energetic spirit that has given her so much success as an athlete.
“All I did was say, ‘Yay! Go ahead!’ said Casaus. “I was kind of a cheerleader.”
However, Estevan Lucero, general manager of 8 Gradys Performance Center in Albuquerque, saw something special in Casaus. Female coaches are essential in the world of performance training, and Lucero saw Casaus as the perfect fit. Several athletes at 8 Gradys are school-aged or younger, men and women are striving for an athletic scholarship to play sports in college.
Title IX has provided many women with higher education opportunities, but after 50 years since the revolutionary law was enacted, the reality is that the competition for these opportunities is at an elite level.
Lucero, a Valley High alumnus who played football at the New Mexico Military Institute, was smart about recruiting women to his team to connect with other women.
Lucero asked Casaus to come be his protege. He hatched a plan for her that seemed simple.
“It’s one of your passions,” Lucero told Casaus. “Why not just take it?” Do not be afraid. See what you can get out of it.
Two years later, Casaus is one of the top 8 Gradys coaches, able to connect with athletes young and old, newbies and veterans alike.
8 Gradys Performance Center, in its fourth year, continues to grow. The coaching staff works with about 400 to 500 athletes a week, said Monica Sandoval, the facility coordinator, who graduated from Cibola High and played soccer at Louisiana Tech.
Facilities at 8 Gradys Performance include indoor and outdoor practice areas, as well as basketball courts and a golf simulator.
Casaus loves being part of the physical training team. She also enjoys working with athletes. She believes she has found her calling.
“I can interact with all types of people, regardless of age, talent and ability,” said Casaus, director of the youth athletic development program and strength and conditioning coach. “I have teenagers and I train their grandparents. I love that there is such cross pollination of training. I like that my work doesn’t just sit behind my desk. I set up workouts, get the logistics. Other than that, I’m in a giant playground.
In addition to Casaus and Sandoval, Neleah Hibben, Natasha Currence and Erika Foutz (academic trainer) are women on the 8 Gradys team.
Casaus said she was in her element playing with her “niñas” and could also be a kid at 20.
Casaus plans to attend the University of New Mexico in the fall to study exercise science.
“There’s a certain dichotomy that women bring to the table,” Lucero said. “They are understanding. They can see our athletes in different ways that we might not be able to see or even provide some level of comfort.
“If you choose to go into this business, especially as a woman, you have to be strong. I’m not just talking about physical strength. Socially, emotionally. Your character must be strong.
“We’re very lucky to have the young women we do on our staff, who bring these things to the table.”
When Lucero got involved in performance coaching, he assumed he would draw soccer players, but over time he noticed he had recruited so many women.
There are several enhancement and enhancement testimonials listed at 8 Gradys. One of them stands out as unique by Amanda Goheen. She plays for the rugby club team at UNM.
“The only thing that was consistent was my training,” Goheen said in his testimony. “I’m the strongest and fastest I’ve ever been, now playing as a winger. I can say with confidence that every program I have ever received at 8 Gradys comes with not only thought and consideration, but also immersive coach support. From InBody scans to impersonal check-ins and relationships with coaches, community and culture is something athletes should definitely want to be a part of.