Palmyra 2020 grad Cael Bixler was a heavily recruited athlete before she even entered high school, the proud owner of no less than 12 full-ride Division 1 scholarship offers prior to beginning 9th grade.
She even accepted one – to the University of Oklahoma – her freshman year and stayed committed to the Sooners for the next three years before deciding that her future would be defined by where she felt most comfortable and not by the level of prestige of the gymnastics program that her future school was blessed with.
It was a very mature decision made by a very mature kid who’s been that way since a very young age.
“This year’s been a little crazy,” Bixler said last week. “I was committed to Oklahoma but I didn’t want to go that far from home, so my coaches and I looked at LIU. It’ a new program and coach.”
LIU is Long Island University, which Bixler, who trains at Prestige Gymnastics in Lancaster, settled on after receiving additional offers from Arkansas, Kentucky, Cal, Southern Utah, Illinois State, Central Michigan and, North Carolina State and also receiving a full-ride offer from West Virginia. LIU .is coached by Randy Lane, who recruited Bixler when he was at UCLA.
“It wasn’t too scary,” Bixler said, of reopening her recruiting “It’s very exciting (being a part of a new program). I can’t wait to get with the whole team and see how everything goes.”
“Everybody thought she was crazy,” said Shannon Bixler, Cael’s mother. “Because it was so late in the game and there probably wouldn’t be any scholarships left.”
But Bixler was undeterred, pressing on with her search and even adding track and field to her resume. She became a standout hurdler for the Cougars as a junior, picking up a few college offers for track along the way. Her mother was a former Lebanon County record holder in the high hurdles and older sister, Kelsei, was a key cog in Palmyra’s major cross country and track and field success during her high school days. Kelsei attends Oklahoma.
“I love doing track”, she said. “I was thinking about doing track in college. It was a nice break from gymnastics and another sport with my classmates at school, trying different events.”
Adding to Bixler’s challenges with recruiting was the COVID-19 crisis, which cut into her training and competition time this spring, both for gymnastics and track and field.
“It’s been interesting, not being with my team and not being on the equipment,” she said. “But I just had to work out differently, running and strengthening. My coaches helped me to keep in shape. “
And ultimately, her decision to stay with gymnastics came down to her comfort level with Lane.
“My coaches,” said Bixler. “Talking to him, and his experience with the sport, I really wanted to join the team.”
And not surprisingly she has some big goals for her collegiate gymnastics career.
“I would love to set maybe some school records,” she said, “and place high as a team and go to regionals and nationals.”