Eagle senior Lydia Pitts takes wing in many ways
NEW HAVEN — One of the most talented athletes in Mount Abraham Union High School history found her calling, she said, because she lacks an athletic skill.
Mount Abe senior Lydia Pitts recalled as a 7th-grader at the Bristol high school she wanted to play a spring sport. Softball, girls’ lacrosse, and track and field were offered.
Pitts, a New Haven resident, chose track and field. Why?
“My hand-eye coordination is not good,” said the athlete who has won 17 individual Vermont Division II track and field titles, and is a three-time D-II all-state soccer player who has led the Mount Abe girls’ soccer team in scoring twice and helped the Eagle girls win the 2014 D-II title.
When questioned on that point, Pitts laughed and insisted it’s true: “My friends like to throw things at me because I can’t catch them.”
Certainly it didn’t take long for Pitts to catch onto track. She remembered the coach asking the 7th-graders to jump over a single hurdle.
When Pitts did she was quickly hooked on a discipline that blends speed, jumping and precision.
“I was really afraid to get over it. But once I was over it, I was, like, ‘I want to do that again,’” Pitts said. “I wanted to learn how to do it right. There were all sorts of pieces that I felt I was constantly learning, which really appealed to me.”
Pitts may laugh at her hand-eye coordination, but accurately described her athletic pluses.
“I’ve always been a little bit of a natural,” Pitts said. “I’ve always been kind of tall and boundy. Height does matter in hurdles.”
And that jumping ability and technique also translated to success in the long jump and triple jump. She owns multiple D-II titles in both jumping disciplines, the school records in two hurdling distances and the long jump, and the D-II record in the 55-meter indoor hurdles.
‘A NATURAL LEADER’
But all that doesn’t begin to tell the story, according to her coaches and to a résumé that includes a long list of community service, leadership accomplishments and positions, extra-curricular activities and awards. (See related story for details.)
EAGLE SENIOR LYDIA Pitts, seen here in action against Middlebury, was a four-year starter and three-year Division II all-state player for the Mount Abe soccer team. Pitts mostly played forward and tied or led the Eagles in scoring twice, but also willingly moved back to defense as a junior.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Eagle girls’ soccer Coach Dustin Corrigan calls Pitts “a natural leader” and offered examples. When Pitts was a sophomore Mount Abe had trouble finding outdoor track coaches, and before one was hired Corrigan entered the gym day after day to find Pitts in charge.
“It’s the toughest time to coach track as well, because you can’t get outdoors. They’d have practices in the gym, and there’s this group, 40 high school kids, very well organized, doing sideline-to-sideline dynamic stretches,” Corrigan said. “And who’s coaching them, leading it? A sophomore, Lydia.”
When Pitts was a sophomore on the soccer team she was as the team’s co-leading scorer. But the Eagles got off to a slow start the next fall due to shaky defense. Corrigan moved both Pitts and standout senior Nesta McIntosh to defense without a word of complaint.
“A lot of kids, particularly if they were as prolific a goal-scorer as she was as a sophomore, might balk at the idea of playing at outside back. But they saw it as what was going to be best for the team, and they embraced the role,” he said.
Track Coach Julie Potter praised Pitts for being “humble,” hard-working and smart.
“She takes the extra time to, obviously, train, but also to look into different strategies and techniques for certain events that she does,” Potter said. “She’s open to any ideas we have, and she’s quick to think of something. If we’re trying to throw in something different for a workout she’s right there to say, ‘OK, why don’t we try this?’”
Corrigan called Pitts “very positive and encouraging of her teammates,” and he entrusts her with organizing team activities.
“She’s got all those traits of a student athlete that you want them to come out of here with. She just had them early on in her high school career,” Corrigan said.
STEM, DENTISTRY, PEOPLE
In the classroom part of that career, Pitts, who is third in her class in terms of grades, said her favorite course has been AP Biology.
“I definitely love math and science. I struggle a little more in history and the languages,” she said. “I like understanding why things work. And with math you can figure things out.”
Pitts agreed she might prefer things cut-and-dried rather than subject to interpretation.
“I do like having answers,” she said. “It’s fun to come to a conclusion that I figured out myself.”
If Pitts already does not sound like a typical student, there is also this: “My ideal job is to be a dentist, so I think I will continue on the math and science route through college and afterwards.”
Even her mother gently teases her for not fitting the stereotype.
“It’s funny. Whenever I go out and hang out with friends or something, my mom is like, ‘Lydia, you’re being a normal high-schooler. Congrats,’” Pitts laughed.
How would her friends describe her?
“They would tell you that I’m a goofball and extremely awkward, both in social interactions and physical activities,” Pitts said. “I like to think my awkward is charming.”
Pitts likes some popular music on her friends’ Spotify lists, citing Drake and Lorde. But when asked what she has on her phone she changed directions midstream.
“I really like things I can sing to. I’m not very tuneful, but oldies are fun, like ‘Come On, Eileen’ or ‘Runaround Sue,’” Pitts said. “There’s also some pop music I’m interested in, but I kind of like books on tape more.”
The last book she read was “Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” about a teenage boy in World War II Italy who resists the Nazis.
“He becomes a spy and leads Jews across the border … I really liked it,” she said.
In her rare free time she might play a game on her phone, and on TV she has enjoyed “Bones,” “White Collar” and “Dexter.” But she is more likely to take the family dogs for a walk, paint or pick up her saxophone — she successfully auditioned for a Castleton University festival and is a Mount Abe music program officer.
“In my free time I’ll practice for fun. I also play a little piano, so it’s something that I enjoy. It’s not like work for me. It’s the same deal with art. I took AP Art last year. There was a lot of homework, but it was something I enjoyed, so it didn’t seem I was working that hard,” Pitts said.
Her artwork, particularly a snow sculpture of a horsehead seen by her godfather, Richmond dentist Howard Novak, led in part to her interest in dentistry. Pitts ended up shadowing Novak.
“He saw some of my artwork. And he said you would make an amazing dentist because you are math and science-y, but also you have the artistic eye and can work with your hands,” Pitts said.
People also fascinate Pitts. She has traveled with her family to the Galapagos Islands and Nicaragua and worked with local residents on school and housing projects, and spent a month in China on a cultural exchange trip. The people were more interesting than the places, she said.
“It’s really cool to be able to see interesting things, but it’s even cooler to connect with them on a personal level,” Pitts said. “I like hearing people’s stories and learning about them.”
LYDIA PITTS HAS earned eight Division II hurdling titles and another nine in long jump and triple jump. She hopes to add to those totals this spring and plans to compete in track and field for Bowdoin College over the next four years.
Independent file photos/Trent Campbell
Pitts will attend Bowdoin College this fall. Her track ability will translate well to NESCAC competition: Her results in her events would place her in the league’s top 10.
Bowdoin means the end of her soccer career. The sports are different, Pitts said, and she has cherished both.
Track and field is social, with downtime between events, and athletes tend to cheer for each other because they most often do not directly compete with each other.
“Everyone wants you to do your best, and you want other people to do their best. It’s friendly,” Pitts said. “That leaves a lot of room for me to be excited when other people do well. I definitely feel I’ve made a lot of friends through track from other schools.”
Pitts also enjoys track’s variety, and its self-reliance.
“You can find something you love. I don’t particularly love running, just alone, but there are events that distract me, like hurdling and jumping,” Pitts said. “And I liked to be able to push myself, and not have my success directly dependent on other people’s hard work as well.”
In soccer success depends on competitiveness and teamwork; it offers different rewards.
“Scoring a goal, or having a teammate score a goal, and everyone runs in, that’s a feeling that you won’t necessarily get in track and field. Because there’s a sense of togetherness where your team is like, ‘We just did that,’” Pitts said.
Pitts is thrilled she did both sports.
“I appreciated how different they were, and I loved them each for their own reasons,” she said.
For her last weeks at Mount Abe Pitts said she has modest goals.
“I’d just like to have fun. I’d like people to remember me for the good things that I’ve done. I’d like to leave with people being happy, me included,” she said.
And for the great beyond?
“I’d like to have experiences in cities and suburbs, but I can see myself coming back to Vermont. I thought it was a good place to grow up,” Pitts said. “I foresee playing music and doing art and meeting interesting people. I’m very excited for what the future holds.”
Click here to read about Pitts’ other accomplishments and community service projects.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.
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