Senior gymnast walks a thin line to success at U

Mark Heller

Cathy Keyser walks a four-inch-wide line some three-and-a-half feet off the ground. She also has to jump, flip and turn on this four-inch-wide line. One little slip, and the chances of serious injury rise like the national debt, only to be outdone by the prospect of sheer embarrassment.
Sound scary?
“Nah,” the Gophers’ lone senior gymnast and team captain said. “The beam is not going to move anywhere on me. It’s a gamble every time you get up there. I’m more scared of the disappointment and the fear of failure when you fall.
“Besides, in Australia, we used a two-inch wide balance beam.”
As for her failures, Keyser said she hasn’t had anything to fear but fear itself.
Keyser is the defending Big Ten champion on the balance beam, has earned All-Big Ten honors twice, shares the school record with Kristi Selinger on the uneven bars with a 9.90, has the second-highest balance beam score in school history at 9.925, and her 9.825 on the balance beam at the 1997 Big Ten championships helped Minnesota to an overall school record of 49.300.
Her success is no fluke, especially coming from Australia, where gymnastics was basically her nine-to-five job.
“I was only in school there for about two hours a day,” Keyser said. “We always got special exemptions because we were athletes. So it was normal to spend eight hours a day practicing.”
As is the case in many nations, athletics and college don’t mix in Australia. You can’t have one and have the other, she said, and Minnesota offered her a scholarship. So Keyser — who was originally born here — and her family returned.
Three years later, Keyser is trying to help the Gophers defend their Big Ten title and earn another trip to the NCAAs, not something she entirely envisioned would happen when she first arrived.
“I guess I am surprised at how well I’ve done here. I don’t think it was something I expected was going to happen, but (co-coaches) Meg and Jim (Stephenson) have done a great job. The team has done so well since I’ve been here, and that has given me greater satisfaction.”
But not everyone shares all of her humility.
“We knew she had the capability to be a superstar,” Meg Stephenson said. “When you have her natural talent and incredible work ethic, you develop into a champion.”
Her notion of not drawing much attention to her herself seems a little ironic. Since the Gophers lost three of their top six balance beam athletes to graduation, and six overall, some of the underclassmen are looking to Keyser for leadership and guidance.
“She’s always been so solid,” sophomore Selinger said. “We know she’s going to rock, but the thing that’s most impressive is how she carries herself — relaxed and confident. She’ll be the first person to cheer you up on a bad day.”
Case-in-point: the Gophers’ Intra-squad meet last weekend. Keyser noticed the lack of cheering and vocal support toward their teammates.
“I started to scream, `Yell and cheer more,'” Keyser said. “That is something I want to do more of this year. I want to be a good role model all-around, regardless of how I do.”
History suggests she’ll have reason to cheer.
“Any personal rewards I get are great,” she added. “But the team winning gives me the greatest satisfaction.”