Cassie Gerdin, 15, has traveled a long way this year and not just in terms of distance.
The Snider High School sophomore moved to Fort Wayne from her home in Appleton, Wisconsin, a year ago to train full-time with New Haven's Bell's Speed Club, a speedskating team. In September, she won a pair of outdoor national championships and earned a spot on the U.S. Junior team. She'll compete at the Inline Speed Skating World Championships in Ibague, Colombia, this week.
Gerdin is only the second skater from the club to qualify for national team, joining Fort Wayne's Christian Keesler, who is now one of Gerdin's coaches. Keesler competed for Team USA in Nanjing, China, in 2016.
Only six skaters are named to the team, and Gerdin is the top-ranked member in the sprints. She recently spent time in Florida training with one of the Team USA coaches.
Gerdin started skating at age 7, and had been traveling two hours three times a week to train in Milwaukee. That was putting too much strain on her family, she said. She'd sometimes drive to New Haven to train with the Bell's team and liked the atmosphere and competitiveness, so she persuaded her parents to let her move.
“When Cassie was little, she had another coach who had coached her for a long time and she was really good,” said Chris Keesler, Bell's coach and Christian's father. “In fairness, her other coach really brought her a long ways and had her going in a good direction. Unfortunately, that coach is no longer involved with the sport, and she had no one to fill that gap for her.”
As she said, “The reason I came down here is it was my dad's last option to even keep me in the sport. It was better mentally, physically and financially for me to just stay down here.”
So now she Facetimes daily with her family and texts them every evening. She also continues to occasionally work with another coach, Mikey Ratliff.
“There were definitely a bunch of lessons I had to learn,” Gerdin said. “Just because your parents aren't here doesn't mean you can act a certain way.”
Gerdin is living with Christian Keesler and his fiancée, Katie Gordon, whom she sometimes calls “Mom” and “Dad” though they are only 25. She also calls Team Mom Tracie McBride “Mama Tracie.”
“She's always been very respectful and we've never had any issues with her, ever,” Chris Keesler said. “She's well-loved and well-received as far as the team goes. In fairness, it's not just about what she can gain out of this, but this program has gained a great deal by having Cassie on the team. She's a great role model for the younger skaters.”
During practice, Gerdin goes stride-for-stride with McBride's daughter, Alicia, who at 13 holds many national titles and has broken a handful of national records. They help form one of the nation's top relay teams.
“Now that she's made the junior world team, you are into a whole other level of skating and training,” Chris Keesler said. “Just making it onto the team is a huge accomplishment, but now you have to go against the world, and how do you stack up with that competition? I'm sure she's going to skate well because she's a competitor, but it's a humbling experience as well because you are at this big-level competition and you know what's at stake, and you are wearing the uniform.”
He said Gerdin's main goals should be to advance out of a heat and into a final, and everything about the trip should be a learning experience.