AHS grad makes the most of her twist of fate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Sometimes all it takes is a simple twist of fate. Or, in Austin alumna Carrie LeTendre's case, a simple twist of the knee.

Were it not for that unfortunate event, it is possible that the White Bear Lake Area High School girls' gymnastics team and its future Section 4, Class AA Coach of the Year might never have come together and enjoyed the success they have had this year.

LeTendre enjoyed a very successful stint as a three-sport athlete at Austin High School, earning All-State honors in gymnastics, All-Conference mention as a right fielder in softball, and cheering for the football team her senior year.

Email newsletter signup

After graduating in 1996, she headed west to the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire to continue her gymnastics career.

In the preseason of her sophomore year, LeTendre tore the meniscus in her knee, effectively ending her collegiate career. To fill the void, she coached the Eau Claire North High gymnastics team her junior and senior years, where her assistant was her former Austin teammate Shannon Bell.

"Coaching wasn't something I had really thought about before I got injured," LeTendre said, "but there's always a shortage of coaches and judges, so I'd encourage kids out there to stick with the sport after they graduate."

Upon graduating with a degree in business, she moved up to the Twin Cities to work in the business office of a pulmonary doctor. The year she spent away from coaching just made her miss it more.

To scratch this itch, LeTendre took over the job at White Bear Lake, a suburban St. Paul high school which has an average graduating class is about the size of the entire AHS enrollment.

Her first year was, in her words, "a building year."

It all came together for WBLA this season as LeTendre's charges won the Section 4AA title to capture a berth in the state tournament, which earned her section Coach of the Year honors.

The team's success wasn't limited to the mats either. WBLA was the top academic team in the state as well.

Their run is all the more remarkable, given the dynamics of girls' gymnastics in the Twin Cities area. Because of the dominance of club teams, it's harder to convince the top gymnasts to compete for their high schools instead. On top of that, LeTendre's team receives no funds from the school, relying solely on parental contributions to buy all of the necessary equipment and keep it up to date.

"It's a year-round job," she says, "because it can sometimes be a struggle to get recognition for our program up here."

After working at the doctor's office from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m., she then heads off to the gym for another three hours of practice.

"It makes for some pretty long days," LeTendre says, "but coaching is something I put a lot of work into and definitely see myself doing for a long time."

"She was a very hard worker and a good leader," said LeTendres first coach, Barb Taylor from the YMCA. "She was always encouraging the other girls on the team."

To cap off the 2002-03 high school season, LeTendre got a nice surprise on Parents' Night when her kids got her to walk out onto the mat blindfolded to receive her gift. When she took off the blindfold, she found her present in the form of an engagement ring from her kneeling boyfriend Dan Gaisbauer, who coaches basketball at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights.

"As if I wasn't busy enough," she joked, "now I have a wedding to plan too."

LeTendre also plans to help him coach the Simley softball team this spring.

"I definitely miss the small town atmosphere," LeTendre says of Austin, "but both of my older sisters and my parents (Gary and Debbie) still live there. They still come out and support me a lot at my meets, except they wear orange and black sweatshirts now instead of red ones."