Imagine being a high school athlete and being given a chance to train and prepare like the pros. For more than 100 athletes in the Pasadena Unified School District, this dream has become a reality.
This district has teamed up with Athletic Gaines, which works out of CATZ (Competitive Athletic Training Zone) Physical Therapy on Raymond Avenue. Athletic Gaines gives athletes throughout the district — who ordinarily wouldn’t have this opportunity — a chance to train, develop and condition free of charge the way world-class athletes do.
The program is the brainchild of Bob Meers, a former executive at Reebok and Lululemon. Meers, who played professional football with the Minnesota Vikings, came to CATZ with a unique perspective, he said.
“I didn’t look at CATZ as a gym,” Meers said. “I looked at it as being able to take someone from injury or surgical recovery through human performance evaluation to personal or athletic improvement.”
And when the Boston native started exploring the local community he discovered that if CATZ and Athletic Gaines were to survive, they needed to work more out of their comfort zone.
“I started visiting with schools in the area,” he said. “What I started to find was people either didn’t know about CATZ or they thought of CATZ as a (physical therapy) facility.”
That’s when he said he came up with his idea of bringing his programs to those who could use it most and have been doing so for six months now.
“We then approached the Pasadena Unified School system and said, ‘We can offer you world-class training and have it underwritten by the business community in Pasadena,’” Meers said. “To prove our concept, my wife and I decided to pay for it. We now are training … just north of 150 athletes.”
Catherine Kelly, managing partner with Athletic Gaines at CATZ, said the program is especially needed today since school districts are often strapped for cash to pay for the extras.
“I know how limited athletic support has become in our schools,” she said. “Our main goal is to give them all … the great things that they would get as college athletes before they get to college. We’re trying to give them that now.”
She noted the program is really having a positive effect on the kids who are taking part in it.
“We’re working on making these kids faster and stronger, and we’re focusing on injury prevention,” Kelly said. “We’re making them better athletes, and in the process we’re reducing injuries throughout the season.”
Gilbert Barraza-Marestein, who is the athletic director for the district, called the program a “game changer,” and said it’s rather unique for it to be occurring.
“It’s an opportunity for our kids, and it’s free of charge for them,” he said. “That’s what makes it cool. Most middle-class families will have to pay for this kind of service. But for them to reach out in this philanthropic way is great.”
Not only do the students become better athletes, but sometimes they learn techniques to prevent themselves from getting hurt, he noted.
“Kids get an edge in their sport,” Barraza-Marestein said. “Sometimes they can be overcompensating for an injury they don’t have. They can help them overcome the injury and train the muscles so it’s not repeated.”
Josh Robinson, a performance coach with Athletic Gaines, said the training the students are getting is invaluable, something he never thought possible when he was growing up.
“These kids are fortunate having some place like this,” Robinson said. “When we were growing up it was just about going out and playing with your friends, going out to the park, going out to the gym and lifting weights. But we never had a specific performance coach who would enhance and maximize our playing potential and minimize injury.”
He, too, added one of the biggest benefits of the program is to keep these athletes safe.
“When we’re training and we see them at a certain place and position in movement, we make sure we coach them and guide them, cue them to prevent the injuries,” Robinson said.
So, how is the training going? Nick Moran, a baseball player at Pasadena High School, said he is learning a lot through it.
“It’s giving me better technique,” said Moran, who plays outfield and pitches. “It’s getting my legs stronger and faster for hitting, pitching and running.”
Teammate Connor Terry agreed.
“It gives us a great opportunity to train with professional coaches and learn more about ourselves and our strengths and weaknesses,” said Terry, who is also an outfielder.
Terry added he likes that the program can be specifically tailored to a sport to help with a specific position or role.
“They’re giving me more techniques so I can actually do them good,” he said. “I can get more stolen bases this year.”
But for Darelle Noel, director of performance at Athletic Gaines, working with the students is really what makes this program so rewarding.
“It’s amazing the energy that they bring,” Noel said. “The energy they bring brings out the energy in me. Working with the kids brings out another side of me I wouldn’t bring out on another normal day. It’s definitely a lot of fun.”