January 29, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 43°F


Creating her escape

When senior thrower Kate Middleton finished a sculpture of herself in an intermediate sculpture class, she felt satisfied knowing she had conveyed her physical and psychological self in a creative work of art.

Shawn Steiner/The IthacanSenior thrower Kate Middleton works on a project made of steel wire and rotating wheels that move magnets during her advanced sculpture class Monday in Ceracche Center.

“It was made of metal, wood, glass and a javelin my coach let me use,” Middleton said. “It represents me with the glass formed into the shape of my face, the metal symbolizing my strength — physically and mentally — and the wood being my core.”

Middleton’s time in the Ceracche Center art studios has helped relieve the stress that comes with competing as a thrower on the women’s track and field team and taking courses in the college’s physical therapy program. After taking an introductory painting course with former teammate Chelsea Youtz, Middleton chose to minor in art because it allowed her to use her imagination and discover a hidden talent.

“I didn’t really know if I would like it because I had only sketched a little when I was younger,” she said. “I was amazed with what I could do with a brush, and I had never seen myself as the creative type, so finding the artistic ability within me was so amazing.”

Middleton had been an athlete her entire life before college, competing as a thrower at Pinkerton Academy in her hometown of Derry, N.H., because she liked the family
environment the team offered. The more solitary environment in the art studio helped calm her thoughts and stay in the moment.

“I love track because I felt like a little kid at recess that just got to go outside and be free from everything,” she said. “Art — even though I get frustrated because I want it to be perfect — it is an escape for me because I don’t have to think about anything else than what I am doing right now.”

Middleton faced a crossroads in her college career when she chose to sacrifice her passions for athletics and art to help her family. In the summer of 2010, Middleton’s father, James, decided to serve a six-month tour as a federal contractor for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

As the daughter of two retired military members, Middleton was used to having her parents deployed, but was nervous that her father might not make it out of the Afghan war zone alive.

“I was terrified with him going back,” she said. “All I could think about was that devastating phone call that all military families fear, and it wouldn’t go away until he was back.”

In response to her father’s decision, Middleton took a leave of absence for the fall 2010 semester to stay home with her family and help them deal with the struggles ahead of them.

“We knew it was going to be dangerous, and we were all scared, so I needed to be home to contribute everything I could to my family and keep the brave face on so that they wouldn’t break down,” she said.

Courtesy of Kate MiddletonFrom left, Middleton and her father, James, stand together at Middleton’s Pinkerton Academy Track Team Banquet in June 2008.

Middleton began working as a part-time sales associate at Victoria’s Secret. She returned to Pinkerton Academy, where she attended high school, to coach the throwers on the women’s track team.

In addition to coaching the track team, Middleton continued to create art to take her mind off her father’s absence.

“I didn’t want to produce work that was meaningless, so my teachers started pushing me to do things more abstract,” Middleton said. “I had a realization of what was important in life and I used my experiences and my emotions from home.”

When she returned to the college for the spring 2011 semester, she created a sculpture for her intermediate sculpture class for an assignment called “Lit From Within.” The piece, a heart with a devil’s tail coming from the rear, became a representation of the struggle she faced during her leave of absence from the college.

The Bombers’ team dynamic suffered while Middleton was tending to her family’s needs and helping her former high school teammates. Senior Molly Quinn said Middleton’s absence during preseason training for the outdoor season took a toll on the squad’s morale.

“She was really a leader for our team, so without her we were missing her friendly,
upbeat personality and the support she provided everyone,” Quinn said. “She watches every event — even when she’s warming up — and cheers on everyone.”

With her father still deployed until April, Middleton began to lift with the women’s track team in January 2011. She returned to the lineup after missing one meet and eventually qualified for the Outdoor Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship in the shot put.

Sophomore thrower Elaine Abdulky said Middleton progressed every day during the season to earn a spot in the regional competition.

“She was working so hard and pushing to get better and better every day,” Abdulky said. “As a teammate, she was always pushing everyone else and more supportive of everyone than ever.”

Middleton is unsure whether she wants  to practice physical therapy in the military or at a veterans’ hospital, but will always create drawings and sculptures in her spare time. Once she had more time to exercise her passions for track and art, Middleton was able to discover that her hobby could provide a therapeutic opportunity to think about her career path.

“When you are going down a difficult path like I was, there are so many directions that you can go,” she said. “But when I got back and was immersed in everything again, it narrowed the path and showed me who I want to be in the future.”