August 1, 2014

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Athlete of the Year: Age was never an issue for Selena Pasadyn

Selena Pasadyn has skipped a few things — like first grade — but the Brunswick High School valedictorian and 2012 Gazette Senior Female Athlete of the Year doesn’t feel like she’s missed anything.

Though she will still be 16 years old when she begins attending Harvard in the fall, the Wendy’s High School Heisman winner wouldn’t change anything about the way her life has unfolded so far.

Brunswick’s Selena Pasadyn is the Gazette Female Athlete of the Year. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

From starting kindergarten when she was 4 and simultaneously completing first grade to attending Willetts Middle School when she was 9 to beginning her freshman year of high school when she was 12, Pasadyn has been able to fit in — and stand out — every step of the way.

“If I was in sixth grade jumping to eighth, maybe it would be a factor, but I had been boosted ahead since the time I started second grade,” she said. “I never thought there was a generation gap, so to speak.

“A lot of people say, ‘Aren’t you scared? You’re 16 and you’re going off to college.’ I say that I’m like an 18-year-old. I’ve had the same life experiences everyone else has had.”

Actually, Pasadyn has experienced — and accomplished — a lot more than most high school graduates.

She carried a 4.77 grade-point average at Brunswick, got a composite score of 33 on the ACT, was one of approximately 2,000 applicants out of 34,000 to be accepted by Harvard, earned 12 varsity letters and won the Wendy’s High School Heisman out of 48,000 female candidates.

She earned first-team All-Gazette honors 11 times — four each in cross country and track and three times in swimming — along with being a member of Brunswick’s Division I state championship cross country team and setting five school records in swimming and another in track.

“If I had been in my correct grade, possibly athletically I could have been even stronger. I just now hit my growth spurt,” said Pasadyn, who was 5-foot-3 and 96 pounds when she committed to Harvard in early May and is now 5-4, 98 pounds. “That possibility always occurs to me.

“But then I think about where I’ve been academically. Going back two years simply couldn’t be an option for me. I was pushed academically, and that’s what I needed. If I’ve been hindered in athletics, that’s just the way it needed to be.”

Fast track

Leon Pasadyn, who works as a registered nurse, and wife Jeannine, who had the same occupation until becoming a stay-at-home mom when the first of her four daughters was born on Oct. 14, 1995, had Pasadyn’s IQ tested as a toddler.

Her 144 score placed her in the 99.832 percentile, meaning approximately 17 out of every 10,000 people — or one in every 595 — can match Pasadyn’s intelligence level.

Not wanting their oldest daughter to be bored academically, the Pasadyns enrolled Selena in kindergarten when she was 4. At the same time, she was also going through first grade.

“I remember I got two recesses,” Pasadyn said. “The teacher wanted me to get the experience of kindergarten, but they knew I was at the level where a first-grader should be.”

The following school year, when she was 5, Pasadyn began second grade at Huntington Elementary, though she was in an accelerated classroom that included students in the first through third grades.

She repeated the process the following year, then spent the next two years in another accelerated room for fourth- and fifth-graders.

In sixth grade, when she was 9, she began attending Willetts Middle School.

“My parents and some others were worried that, emotionally and socially, I wouldn’t be ready,” Pasadyn said. “That really wasn’t a factor for me. I think I made the transition just fine.”

Pasadyn, who had the goal of graduating as valedictorian of the class of 2012 when she started high school as a 12-year-old freshman, made the transition so well her parents followed a similar pattern with two of her three sisters.

Vanessa, who is 14 and about to begin her freshman year at Brunswick, is the only one who hasn’t skipped a grade. Cassandra, 12, will be entering the eighth grade, while Felicia, 10, will be a sixth-grader.

“I would say, ‘Go for it,’” Pasadyn said when asked if she would recommend skipping a grade. “If you’re ready academically, that’s the best route to take. I’ve been challenged (academically), and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

Most of Pasadyn’s closest friends are also recent high school graduates, meaning some are two years older than she is.

Hoping to attend medical school and become a surgeon, she is on pace to complete her undergraduate degree in biochemistry when she is 20, meaning she’ll have a degree from Harvard before she’s old enough to legally buy a beer.

None of this really concerns Pasadyn, whose personal sense of normalcy has always included being extremely busy and being the youngest person in her class. That she wasn’t old enough to drive until early in her senior year of high school and still doesn’t have text messaging on her cell phone doesn’t seem different at all in her world.

“As far as high school goes, I’ve just pushed myself in the classroom and in cross country, swimming and track,” she said. “I’m doing things I love to do. I’m working hard, which is a personality trait I have that will never leave me. I just see it as me being a hard-working girl doing what I love.”

Making a splash

Pasadyn was 7 years old — that means she was in fourth grade — when she started competitive swimming.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve enjoyed being in the water,” she said. “I like the variety. People think it’s just swimming up and down the pool, but there are four different strokes — the freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. I swim the individual medley, so I get to practice all four.”

Pasadyn lettered in swimming all four years at Brunswick, earned first-team All-Gazette honors in her last three seasons and set school records in the 200 and 500 free, 200 IM and 200 and 400 free relays.

“She works hard in the classroom, on the track and in the pool,” Blue Devils swimming coach Erin Crabtree said. “She’s quiet and very determined, but if you get her going, she’s hysterical. She always knows right when to put in a little jab. She has a very good sense of humor and she knows when it’s time to have fun.”

Pasadyn, who was jokingly called “Heisman” and “Smarty Pants” by her swimming teammates, also knows when it’s time to buckle down and get to work.

“The kids saw her as a senior, not as a 16-year-old,” Crabtree said. “When she was a freshman, it was, ‘Whoa, you’re only 13?’ Over the four years, she’s really matured.

“Carrying on a conversation with her, you can definitely tell she’s an intelligent young lady, but with the other kids on our team, she fit right in.”

Long distance

Pasadyn didn’t take up running until she was in the seventh grade — that means she was 10 — at Willetts Middle School.

“Being naïve, I had a pair of Payless slip-on tennis shoes,” she said. “I guess my parents and I didn’t realize footwear is the most important piece of equipment you have as a runner.

“I ran a couple of days in those and I started complaining about knee and ankle pain. That’s when the coach mentioned to my mom, ‘Hey, I think you need to get her a better pair of shoes.’ That’s pretty much how I remember starting.”

In high school, Pasadyn was a four-time All-Gazette pick in both cross country and track.

In her junior year, she earned first-team All-Ohio honors after placing 14th at the Division I state cross country meet. As a senior, she had an off day and slumped to 52nd, but still finished as the Blue Devils’ third-best runner as they won a state team championship.

Her most memorable performances, however, occurred in practice, when only coaches and teammates were watching and only pride was on the line.

“She never lost a practice day with us, ever, and she came in as a 12-year-old freshman,” said Brunswick’s Kerry Hunter, who has been coaching cross country for 25 years. “She was winning from Day 1. She gave 100 percent every single day.

“Great athletes will take a day off here and there, but she never took a day off. The first day she came to me, she had been at swim practice in the morning and then come to cross country practice in the afternoon.

“She had to be active. She had to be involved. It worked for her, and I was constantly in awe. There were many times I thought, ‘This is a different young lady.’ She was like no one I’ve ever coached before. I had to step back many times and just think about it.”

In track, Pasadyn finished 12th at the D-I state meet in the 1,600 and 3,200 as a senior. She holds the school record of 11:00.62 in the latter.

“She’s a very conscientious, very regimented, very hard-working, very busy girl,” Blue Devils coach Melissa Wojtala said. “She’s doing something 100 percent of the time. There’s no wasteful time in her daily events.

“She sacrificed a lot of social things to excel in athletics and academics. Academics were always first, then athletics, then other things. I’ve never had someone who was involved in so many things.”

Skipping ahead

Pasadyn’s accomplishments and school club involvements are so long some of them have to be condensed into Cliff’s Notes, otherwise this story would turn into a novel the length of “War and Peace.”

She was in Spanish Club, National Honor Society and Diversity Club, as well as a hospital volunteer, bible school teacher, Speaker Pro Tempore in the House of Representatives at Buckeye Girls State and a Susan G. Komen Youth Ambassador.

She was a team captain in all three sports in which she participated, got a perfect score of 36 on the math portion of the ACT, earned an 800 on the math section of the SAT and was a regional finalist in the Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition.

“When I’m trying to juggle everything, it does get a little tiring, but I don’t mind,” she said. “I have good time management. I fit everything in.”

Pasadyn vows to continue to do that when she heads off to Harvard, where she will run cross country and track while working toward attending medical school and one day becoming a surgeon.

She admits to being a bit of a perfectionist and of putting pressure on herself, but being challenged and staying busy are what make her happy. It’s been that way for as long as Pasadyn can remember, and she would have it no other way.

“My parents have been huge influences in my life,” she said. “They’ve instilled that hard work within me. They’ve been able to open doors for me that I never would have been able to open on my own.

Still four months shy of her 17th birthday, Pasadyn is confident she’s experiencing the best of everything and missing out on nothing. She’s enjoying her teenage years, yet looking forward to starting college at an Ivy League school. She’s proud of her academic and athletic accomplishments at Brunswick, yet eager to chase new goals in a new place.

Exactly where it will all lead, she cannot be certain. Pasadyn is way too smart to even attempt to predict that, but she’s also intelligent enough to know the one thing she can control is her own effort, her own willingness to try her best to excel.

“I’m not unique in that I have all this talent,” she said. “I’m unique in that I do all the hard work. I’m the person that will stay up that extra hour at night to make sure I get a 100 on a test. I’m the person who will swim the extra mile in a freezing pool in order to win a race.

“I think that’s what makes me unique.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.