Quickly this summer, Catie Smith got the feel for gymnastics again.
The Northwestern standout won the state title on balance beam at the IHSAA State Finals in Muncie on March 14. It was the last event the IHSAA held as the state began shutting down to combat the coronavirus. Northwestern had stopped holding in-person classes by then, and shortly thereafter the track and field season was called off.
Now as the sports landscape is awakening, Smith is getting back to work where she can.
“This month for gymnastics I’ve been able to practice once a week,” said Smith, who will be a senior this coming school year. “For track, I haven’t done anything because there’s no mats out at any of the schools. The last time I’ve done anything was last track season.”
She did some work during the spring and summer to keep her strength up, but with gymnastics and pole vault, it’s hard to practice without access to the equipment. A regional qualifier as a sophomore in pole vault, she still isn’t able to get in the air, but she’s back in the gym for gymnastics practice.
“Pole vault I feel like it’s not that hard to really get back into it,” Smith said. “It takes some time, but it’s not as hard as gymnastics. If it were any longer I think I’d have to let it go but luckily I didn’t.
“It took a few tries to get everything back [in gymnastics] but once I started getting into it, by the second or third practice, I had everything back.”
Smith’s first practice with the Northwestern gymnastics squad was the last week of June. Additionally, her gymnastics work aids her work in pole vault in a couple ways. She started gymnastics at an early age, 5 or 6. She started pole vault in middle school. It wasn’t evident right away, but eventually she realized that physical skills used in gymnastics applied to pole vault as well.
“I think pole vault and gymnastics are similar because a lot of the things for pole vault, it helps that I’ve done with gymnastics,” Smith said.
“I guess when you’re in the air, it’s kind of like how bars is — how you have to turn your body upside down just holding on to the pole. Even running towards it is like vault, how you’re running towards a still object.”
When Smith won the state title on balance beam last March with a score of 9.625, it was as in an encroaching void as Indiana started shutting down. The state meet was held with gymnasts, coaches and officials only. No parents, or teammates, or friends were permitted.
Smith’s parents watched the event online from home, then drove to the meet site in Muncie toward the end to greet Smith when she exited the venue.
“It was a lot different, because I’ve been doing gymnastics for years and it’s always been everyone there,” Smith said. “For it to be just all the gymnasts and coaches, it was a lot different.”
Smith is planning on returning to school at the Northwestern building this fall. “I’m hoping to have as close to a normal last year as I can,” she said. For Smith, “normal” also means heading to the state gymnastics meet and contending for a medal.
In addition to winning beam last year after qualifying in just that event, Smith qualified for state in the all-around competition as a sophomore. That year she scored a fourth-place medal on vault in her first appearance at state.
“I have a goal of going back [to state]. I hope to go back all-around again, but I wouldn’t be upset if it’s just for one event.” Smith said.
She said despite the lack of practice time until recently “I feel like I’m in a good place” with her gymnastics skills as her senior year approaches. In track, Miller set a Northwestern record at 10 feet, 3 inches early in her sophomore season, won sectionals at 10-2, and pushed her school record out to 10-6 with her effort at the Warsaw Regional.
“I’d like to get more height and set another record, but being consistent with what I’ve gotten before, that’d be the biggest [goal],” Smith said of her senior track season.