When Sandra Casaus began as a fitness trainer, she said she was extremely intimidated.
She was near ready to graduate from Eldorado High, where she excelled in volleyball, basketball and track and field. Yet, the thought of exercise science made her cringe. She’d much rather rely on her positive personality and the energetic spirit that gave her so much success as an athlete.
“All I did was say, ‘Yay! Go you!’ Casaus said. “I was sort of a cheerleader.”
However, Estevan Lucero, general manager of 8 Gradys Performance Center in Albuquerque, saw something special in Casaus. Female trainers are essential in the performance training world, and Lucero saw Casaus as a perfect fit. Several athletes at 8 Gradys are of high school age, or younger, males and females striving to gain an athletic scholarship to play sports in college.
Title IX has provided many females the opportunities for higher education, yet after 50 years since the breakthrough law was enacted the reality is the competition for those opportunities is at an elite level.
Lucero, a Valley High alumnus who played football at New Mexico Military Institute, was smart to recruit women on his staff to connect with other women.
Lucero asked Casaus to come be his protege. He laid out a plan for her that appeared to be simple.
“This is a passion of yours,” Lucero told Casaus. “Why not just take it? Don’t be scared. See what you can make out of it.”
Two years later, Casaus is one of the best trainers at 8 Gradys, able to connect with young and old athletes, beginners and veterans.
8 Gradys Performance Center, in its fourth year, continues to grow. The training staff works with approximately 400-500 athletes per week, said Monica Sandoval, the facility coordinator, who graduated from Cibola High and played soccer at Louisiana Tech.
8 Gradys Performance’s facility includes areas for indoor and outdoor training, as well as basketball courts and a golf simulator.
Casaus loves being part of the fitness training staff team. She also enjoys working with athletes. She believes she has found her calling.
“I get to interact with every type of person regardless of age, talent and abilities,” said Casaus, the youth athletic development program director and strength and conditioning coach. “I have teens and I train their grandparents. I love that there is such a cross-pollination of training. I love that my job is not just sitting behind my desk. I set up workouts, getting 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 females on the 8 Gradys staff.
Casaus said she’s in her element when she plays with her “niñas” and she can 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’re understanding. They can see our athletes in different ways that we might not be able to or even provide a certain level of comfort.
“If you choose to get into this profession, especially as a woman, you have to be strong. I’m not just talking about physical strength. Socially, emotionally. Your character has to be strong.”
“We’re very fortunate to have the young women we do on our staff, who brings those things to the table.”
When Lucero got involved with performance training he assumed he would draw football players, but over time he has noticed he has recruited just as many women.
There are several testimonials of improvement and enhancement listed at 8 Gradys. One sticks out as unique from Amanda Goheen. She plays for the rugby club team at UNM.
“The one thing that has been constant has been my training,” Goheen said in her testimonial. “I’m the strongest and fastest I’ve ever been, now playing as wing. I can say with confidence that every program I have ever received at 8 Gradys comes with not only thought and consideration but immersive coach support. From InBody scans, to impersonal check-ins and relationships with the coaches, the community and culture is something that athletes should definitely want to be a part of.”