Lisa Spini has always had an eye for talent and 12 years ago, Stefani Catour caught her eye.

Catour’s talent was obvious; her physical talents alone placed her ahead of other level ones, or beginner gymnasts.

“I knew she had the physical ability but I didn’t know about the other things,” Spini, one of Catour’s coaches, said. “I saw her as a level five before I even coached her.”

Catour, a junior at Desert Vista, rapidly ascended the ranks, quickly reaching level 10, one of the highest levels attainable, and now sets her sights on competing at the Junior Olympics National Championships this weekend in Minneapolis.

One of the reasons for Catour’s meteoric rise was due to her work ethic.

“She has an amazing work ethic. She’s the kid who you give her the assignment and she’s up on the beam doing it,” Spini said. “She does every single thing you can ask her to do every day, whereas most of the other kids have to keep on them.”

That very same work ethic saw Catour reach the level of Elite, a level above her current level 10 status where the goal is simple: make the national team and make the Olympics.

But being an Elite is a totally different environment than being a level 10, where Catour was before.

“If you’re an Elite it’s not about fun, it’s about hard work and nothing else. It’s gymnastics and nothing else,” Spini said. “You train for eight hours a day basically. You don’t really go to school … you have to do online schooling or work out some kind of arrangement where you can get out of school early every day.”

Ultimately, Catour decided that being at the Elite level just wasn’t for her.

“Doing level 10 is more laid back and fun and stuff, but Elite is really strict,” Catour said.

However, just because she isn’t competing as an Elite anymore, doesn’t mean she isn’t putting in the work.

Catour trains for as many hours as most teenagers spend at a part-time job. She practices for four hours a day, six days a week in order to prepare for nationals.

“This basically is my job,” said Catour with a chuckle.

While most teenagers have jobs and have plenty of time to hang out with friends, Catour doesn’t always have that luxury, especially now.

“You can’t miss gym to hang out with friends,” Catour said. “This time of the year you can’t do that because it’s all meets and you have to do routines and prepare and stuff,”

Preparation and perfection are things Catour takes seriously.

“She is a perfectionist,” Spini said. “She wants to do it right and be perfect at it.”

That quest for perfection has earned Catour a scholarship offer at one of the premier collegiate gymnastics programs in the country.

Catour wants to be a Sooner and has verbally committed to the University of Oklahoma, who just finished second at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships.

Although she considered staying home and going to ASU, where Spini’s husband, John Spini, is the head gymnastics coach, Catour ultimately wanted a change of scenery.

“I’ve lived in Arizona my whole life so I wanted to go out of state, but not really far,” Catour said. “And I didn’t want to go somewhere cold.”

But before Catour will have the chance to compete for a national title with the Sooners, she first has the Junior Olympics National Championships to take care of.

“I want to do well at Oklahoma and help them go far,” Catour said. “And this year and next year at nationals; I want to do well at nationals.”

• Eric Smith is a junior journalism major at Arizona State. He is a summer intern at the AFN.

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