In 2017, at the age of 25, Katie Nageotte uprooted herself from her Ohio home and moved to Pullman with the idea of forcing herself out of her comfort zone.
And it certainly will.
OK, Pullman is as welcoming as the next place, and many top athletes have been recruited to take advantage of its comfort. But that meant cold calling a trainer and moving about 2,000 miles away to a place she had no particular connection to – with the idea that maybe it was just a stopover on the road to Olympic glory.
And what do you know?
They didn’t give him a parade in Pullman after Nageotte won gold in the pole vault in Tokyo last August. The fun stuff mostly happened near where she grew up in Cleveland — throwing the first pitch at Progressive Field, addressing the Browns, being introduced to a Cavaliers game. But there’s no denying that the two years she spent at Pullman working with former Washington State aide Brad Walker – the men’s American record holder for 11 years – was a starting point for her career. feat that earned him these benefits.
Now Nageotte can show off her skills in her coach’s hometown, as Spokane hosts the U.S. Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Podium on Saturday and Sunday.
From college high school, Walker won NCAA jumping titles at the University of Washington and two world championships before coaching at WSU. Finding herself at a crossroads, it was then that Nageotte reached out.
“When I didn’t make the Olympic team in 2016,” said Nageotte, a two-time NCAA Division II champion at Ashland University in Ohio, “I knew I couldn’t. not keep doing what I was doing. I had a lot more potential and I needed someone who would push me – who I would let push me out of my comfort zone.
A meeting with Walker was enough to convince her that she had found someone – and not just get coached by exchanging videos over email.
“I had to form new habits – everywhere,” she said. “If it was somewhere that was familiar, it wasn’t going to happen. I looked at it like it was my last shot. If it didn’t work out with Brad, I’d move on to real life, or whatever you want to call it.
So she rented a spare room in Walker’s house and subsisted on whatever she could collect in prizes and loans from her mother. She stayed two years — Walker left WSU in 2019 to move to Georgia — and let him break it down and rebuild it.
Or maybe the construction came first.
“I’ve always been afraid to jump,” Nageotte confessed. “There really is a fear factor. For so long I kind of used my speed, ran down the track, threw my hands up and hoped for the best. It might get me past competitions, but I really wasn’t training well. Brad managed to change my mentality and avoid anxiety – because without it you can’t make a lot of technical changes.
That first spring, she was a USATF indoor finalist. A year later, she won her first national title and crossed 16 feet, then did it again in 2019.
In 2020, of course, COVID-19 nearly wiped out the season, although Nageotte still managed a personal best of 16-1¾ and managed to avoid the virus – until December. The effects – not so much physical but what she called “brain fog” – lingered for months and ruined her confidence, if not her training.
And yet, there she was in June, atop the podium at the Olympic trials in Eugene after going 16-3.
“This meeting is more stressful than the Olympics,” she said, a not uncommon refrain. “You can only ruin everything. That term “Olympian” is what we all search for. When you tell someone what we do, their first question is always: ‘Are you going to the Olympic Games?’ Being able to say yes is the dream, so it’s very nerve-wracking.
Again, Nageotte managed to make the Olympics just as nerve-wracking. She missed her first two tries at the opening height of 14-9, making it her last try. She missed again at 15-5 – still working out the bugs after a tight quadriceps prevented her from doing so in warm-ups.
Unwittingly, she was handing her family over to Cleveland through the cruelest surveillance party ever. But Nageotte found her rhythm on the next three heights – “suddenly, that first bar was gone” – and her clearance at 16-¾ won her the gold medal.
“Ironically, it was the best day of my life career-wise — after the worst feelings you could imagine,” she said. “To this day, it makes me want to vomit when we talk about it. My fingers go numb.
But most of the time it’s a happy hangover – an ecstatic hangover. Yet today, at 30, she’s grappling with getting back on track – admitting there are days when the motivation is so empty and yet there’s no desire to stop.
“I have to find a new way to frame the vault in my mind,” she said, “that it’s something fun I can do, not something I have to do.”
Sounds like someone looking for a comfort zone. Or not.
United States Indoor Track and Field Championships At the grandstand the saturday session 9:00 a.m. – Women’s Pentathlon 12:00 p.m. – Men’s Heptathlon 1:15 p.m. – First field event 2:04 p.m. – First track event Sunday session 9:30 a.m. – Men’s Heptathlon 11:00 a.m. – First track and field events Tickets: TicketsWest.com TV: 2-4 p.m., CNBC and Peacock 9 a.m.-2 p.m., USATF.TV