As the women’s track and field team celebrated its first-ever Liberty League Conference title on Feb. 24, graduate student pole-vaulter Katherine Pitman also celebrated another dominant performance. She finished with the best vault at the meet with 4.16 meters. Pitman also holds the NCAA Division III indoor pole vault record of 4.28 meters, which she set in her senior year. In addition, Pitman holds the school record in indoor and outdoor pole vault and has won individual championships in the Empire 8 as well as an individual NCAA outdoor pole vault championship.
Staff Writer Matt Maloney spoke with Pitman to discuss her final season, how she stays motivated and her time as a Bomber.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Matt Maloney: Being one of two grad students on the team, how has that affected your leadership role?
Katherine Pitman: I think this year has been kind of a unique year because last year I was a captain, so kind of finding my place on the team this year and figuring out if I should take a step back and let the new captains do their thing or keep playing the part that I played last year and really try to be involved. I think I struck a good balance. At the beginning of the year, I was really busy with grad classes so I was a little more withdrawn from the team. Now that the season has been going and we’re in competition season, I think I found my own groove and where I fit in, especially with our pole vaulters. We have a really interesting dynamic where it’s two grad students and three freshmen and nothing in between. So it’s kind of been interesting shepherding and teaching them and showing them what’s good and what’s not, but also taking a step back and realizing they’re 18 and I’m 23.
MM: What do you think winning the Liberty League means for the program?
KP: I think it’s huge to come into a new league and absolutely dominate. We didn’t win by a slight margin — it was 116 points — so to come in and really kind of put your foot down and say, “Ithaca’s here, we’re here to stay,” is huge. It sets a precedent for our underclassmen like “Look, this is the standard,” you know — this feeling of coming in and being this successful and this dominant as a team. I think that those championship meets are where it really stands out for those underclassmen. Being like, ‘Well, maybe I didn’t have the farthest or fastest time, but I scored points and was one of four girls on the podium.’ You’ll see other teams on the first place, but you rarely see other teams that have three or four girls on the podium across
MM: How do you feel about your time as a Bomber?
KP: I say it all the time, it’s the most unexpected blessing. When I came to IC as a freshman, I never anticipated being on track because I had never done track. It all happened so fast, but it was the best mistake I ever made. It’s just the biggest blessing of my life to have walked on to not only a track team, but such an incredible track team with incredible staff, teammates, friends, experiences and an athletic department that cares for you and is willing to send you to these big meets and buy you these pole series and give you all the tools you need to succeed. It’s taught me a lot about myself and what I’m capable of when I’m pushed down and told I’m not good enough. Being able to come back and be the best at something and be the best you that you can be, it’s a lesson I never would have learned without track and without getting cut from gymnastics.
MM: If there is anything you could tell yourself sophomore year knowing everything you know now, what would it be?
KP: Probably that everything happens for a reason. When I first got cut from gymnastics, I really thought it was the end of the world. But I think that by the end of my sophomore year, I realized that there really is a silver lining to everything and if you put in the work, you can make something great out of what seems like a terrible situation. Also just to never say no. We have all the resources at our fingertips, and this is what I tell freshmen and the other walk-ons that come on, just never say no. If coach wants to put you in an open 60-meter dash, do it, because you’ll never be able to find those hidden talents that you have if you don’t.