A balancing act: Aspen High gymnast takes state title to regional meet

Aspen High School sophomore Morgan Leasure practices on the balance beam last week at the Red Brick Recreation Center ahead of this week's regional meet in Lafayette.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times |

Like most sophomores her age, Morgan Leasure spends the bulk of her day at Aspen High School. But when school lets out, she’s off to the Red Brick Recreation Center, where she spends about 19 hours each week training with Aspen Gymnastics.

That’s a lot to ask of any 16 year old, but it’s the only path she understands.

“I don’t really know a life any other way, because I’ve been doing it for so long,” Leasure said. “It’s really busy, but I get through it. On the weekends is when I hang out the most, but I usually just do homework at night when I get home from the gym.”

This commitment has paid off, however, as Leasure has become one of the best Aspen gymnasts in more than a decade. She will compete Friday afternoon as a level 10 gymnast at the Region 3 USA Gymnastics meet at Xtreme Altitude in Lafayette, where a spot in the women’s Junior Olympics National Championships will be on the line.

Leasure competed in this same meet a year ago, when it was also held on the Front Range, but struggled as a first year Level 10, the highest level of youth gymnastics in the country. The regional meet includes the best gymnasts from Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Texas.

This year, the belief is she has a “fighting chance.”

“She has improved her skill level in her level 10 routine and just her quality of gymnastics has gotten better,” said John Bakken, her longtime coach. “She saw what the other gymnasts were doing at regionals last year and she has upped her game. Now she is going to regionals this year with a chance to compete against the top kids.”

Bakken, who has directed Aspen Gymnastics for more than two decades, draws a comparison between Leasure and Rose Kiernan, a 2000 AHS graduate who was the last level 10 to compete from Aspen. Kiernan went on to compete in gymnastics for Denver University.

Bakken said it’s difficult for kids to reach these levels due to the year-round commitment it entails.

“I never knew Rose. She was out of here before I was even born, but it’s good to know we still, in this little town, can have people live up to these large expectations,” Leasure said. “There’s been times when I wasn’t sure if I could keep going and I wanted to stop, but I got through it and kept going and it got me to where I am.”

Unlike last year, Leasure will enter this week’s regional as a state champion. Recently at the Colorado state championships in Denver, she won the state title on the balance beam, her first as a level 10.

Two years ago she also won a state title on the balance beam, but then as a level 9. She also won beam at regionals that year, and went on to compete at the 2015 Western Championships. At level 9, nationals are split into Western and Eastern competitions. Not until level 10 does it all come together into one event.

“Winning a state championship at level 10 is, boy, no small task,” Bakken said. “In our region we have Texas, and so our region is the strongest region in the country. So trying to get out of our region is really quite a feat.”

The upper level of competitive gymnastics begins at level 7, and Leasure isn’t alone in that regard. Aspen Gymnastics has two level 7s, Story Rondeau, 10, and Katie Sheridan, 11, with Rondeau having qualified for regionals this year. Then there is AHS junior Dominique Rosa, a first-year level 9 gymnast, who was hurt much of the season.

Finally, there is the lone male still competing for Aspen in AHS sophomore Donovan Bronstein. Bronstein moved up to level 10 midway through this season and also qualified for regionals, but decided not to compete. Like Leasure, he can still compete at level 10 for the next two seasons, where both hope to impress the college scouts.

“That’s one thing about getting to that national level — the recruiters are there,” Bakken said. “I think both Morgan and Donovan could easily do college gymnastics and be a really good addition to a college NCAA Division I team.”

Should Leasure advance past regionals, the national championships this season are held May 6-7 in Indianapolis.