The old saying goes that when opportunity knocks, open the door.
Swampscott’s Katherine Pitman saw a major disappointment turn into an opportunity, and she kicked the door down herself, welcoming a new opportunity in.
Pitman, the daughter of Peter and Martha Pitman, was a freshman member of the Ithaca College gymnastics team, after competing for the Swampscott-Marblehead team in high school and for many years, at the Marblehead YMCA.
Pitman sat out her freshman year with an injury, and then found out she was unable to join the gymnastics team in her sophomore year. She was determined to keep doing something athletic, so she walked into the office of the Ithaca track and field coaches and threw her cards on the table.
“I knew I couldn’t be done with athletics. I love competing too much. I was determined to do something, anything, I just didn’t really know what I was going to do after that what happened on the gymnastics team,” Pitman added. “I walked into the track coach’s office and said that I really don’t like to run, but I’d like to be part of the track and field team.”
Fast forward more than a year, and Pitman is a national champion in track and field. Pitman cleared 4.21 meters for the NCAA Division 3 championship. That 4.21 meter jump (roughly 13-feet-9.75-meters) was also good for a national record set in 2012, which was 4.20 meters.
“I walked into the track offices and said that I’m willing to do the work, I want to keep up some sort of athletic career. What can I do?” Pitman remembers asking.
Fortunately for the Ithaca coaching staff, the pole vault was just what was needed to get Pitman, a 2013 Swampscott High grad, competing at a high level athletically once again.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind since I went to see the track coaches,” Pitman said. “For the past two years, year and a half, it’s been incredible. Swampscott and Marblehead don’t have the pole vault, but one of my friends said the pole vault would be perfect for me, and I’m grateful they were right.”
The gymnastics team’s loss was certainly the track team’s gain. Pitman worked hard to make herself a solid pole vaulter, nabbed the school record on the way, and made it to the NCAA Division 3 Nationals in 2015.
Last May, Pitman leapt 3.72 meters at the New York State Collegiate Outdoor Championships. That was good enough for the top spot, and helped lock up first place for the Bombers.
That was all just prelude to 2016, however. At the ECAC championships, she won with a top vault of 3.96 meters. Then, on May 26, she made her own bit of history. She and Ithaca teammate Brandy Smith (discus) won NCAA championships on the same day.
Pitman is a two-time NCAA All-American and was named the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Outstanding Female Performer after her record-setting effort May.
Pitman is heading into her senior season academically at Ithaca. Athletically, it’s only going to be her junior season, since she was a redshirt her freshman year. Pitman is in a six-year program pursuing a doctorate degree in physical therapy.
“There are so many things that are similar [between] gymnastics to the pole vault. They’re different, certainly, but you have to be dedicated and willing to put in the work, and that’s something I enjoy, the hard work,” Pitman said. “All the hard work doesn’t mean much without good coaching and good teammates, and I have those at Ithaca.”
Pitman said she has gotten incredible help from her teammates, including Alex Rechen, and her coaches, Matt Scheffler and Elrick McCheyne.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and I definitely found a cloud with a silver lining after I walked into the track offices a while ago,” Pitman said. “After being so disappointed after what happened in gymnastics, to be here now, with the track team is incredible. I’m grateful, and I’m thankful for the opportunity I got and to the people who helped me get here.
“Considering I didn’t know much about the pole vault to be where I am now certainly is amazing,” Pitman added. “I like to think that I had the mental toughness to be a good athlete, and with the help of my track coaches, my friends who supported me and my teammates, it’s been amazing.”
For someone who doesn’t like running very much, Pitman certainly has raced for success, and her opponents will be looking at the NCAA pole vaulting champ when Ithaca’s track and field team opens up its next season.
“Every day is a little bit of a surprise for me. You can never anticipate achieving success. You can only prepare yourself to compete to the best of your ability to try and achieve success,” Pitman said. “For me, I’ve been an athlete my whole life. I’ve always, even when I did gymnastics, held myself to a high standard, and wanted to be the best.
“I’m willing to work hard and be as mentally tough as I can be, to compete, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by great people and great coaches who have helped me to achieve success,” Pitman said.