HER 2020 SEASON finished on a high of rarefied distinction, as Katie Nageotte catapulted herself to No. 6 on the all-time world vault list with her 16-1¾ (4.92) leap on August 01. That also reaffirmed her position in the thick of the fray for Olympic medals in Tokyo. But her 2020 year and the leadup to her 2021 campaign also ended with a C19 diagnosis — concerning, no matter one’s age or health status before the illness.
Thankfully, as of mid-January she is well on her way back to full fitness and gathering steam for the runup to the Olympic Trials although the coronavirus did punch her with several of the strange symptoms and after-effects we’ve become familiar with anecdotally or in many painful cases through experience.
“I was definitely sick. That’s why I got tested,” the 29-year-old Ashland alum says. “The worst of it for me was headaches, body aches, congestion. The congestion was definitely the worst. But I only felt really bad for a couple of days and I’ll say I’ve felt sicker before, but it was definitely one of the worst I’ve felt. But then after that it was just mostly the congestion that lingered and I did lose my taste and smell for probably about a week. So it was so weird. I love to eat, so eating without taste was awful. It was so horrific.”
Unmistakably not as horrific as for many who have suffered, or even died, from the disease, she admits: “While I was sick it wasn’t that bad, and that’s why I didn’t really make a big thing out of it because obviously other people are experiencing it so much worse. For me, coming back, that’s where I felt the biggest difference.
“I’m at about the month mark; my first symptoms were like December 7th, I want to say. And just now I feel like I’m starting to finally feel the same in terms of power and mind/body connection, the sharpness. I just felt flat and off in every sense of the word. And then — which is crazy because I didn’t feel that bad — it really did have an effect on me, and even still my endurance. I’m so winded so fast in sessions.
“So it’s taking time to come back — and it is coming back. But that’s definitely the biggest difference I’ve noticed versus any other sickness that I’ve experienced.”
Nageotte, who lost her father to a heart attack when she was 16, underwent cardiac testing and received medical clearance before she resumed training. Then over the Christmas holiday “did some really easy runs just to kind of get my heart rate back up, get the body moving again.
“Then the week after I did my first vault session and I felt like Bambi. It’s like I was all over the place. For a few weeks pushing out of the back and the first couple of steps, there was no power to it. And then trying to process everything coming into the takeoff was — I just wasn’t able to see it.
“It’s hard to explain, but normally when I’m running down [the runway] I’m very in control of what I’m doing, and I just felt like it was happening so fast. I couldn’t tell my arms to move fast just to jump and to go.
“I was anxious there for a little bit, but it’s coming back and all you can do is just stay patient. I just said to myself, ‘You were sick and given the circumstances it’s normal and just be patient with yourself.’”
Her bounceback is real, Nageotte says: “Definitely the last two sessions I’ve definitely felt more like myself. It was just everything about me was kind of lethargic. Like I said, the power output, everything, was just a little flat. That included the mind/body connection, and with what we do, you just gotta be a bit sharp. So that’s all that was. And then of course, as a vaulter when things feel wrong, you naturally want to panic.
“But you know, it was just kind of humbling to say, ‘OK, let your body tell you. You are not a bad vaulter, you didn’t revert. This is just how it’s going to be for a little bit. And that’s OK. Just do what you can, stay focused, and now more than ever really focus on the technique and what you can control.’”
Perceiving the transition of her arms and legs from wobbly fawn back to sharply reflexed doe to be nearly complete, Nageotte and Brad Walker — the ’07 men’s world champion who has coached her since the last Olympic campaign — have scheduled some indoor meets.
“I feel like, ‘OK, competitions are starting to come up,’” Nageotte says, “but in the grand scheme of things, no, if I was still sick, if I was still really off, it’s not a do-or-die kind of situation like the Olympics or World Championships. So, yeah, it’s not a ton of [immediate] pressure, but I think it’s the right amount of pressure, stress, to say, ‘OK, yes, we’re going to be patient and your body’s going to tell you how you’re feeling, but let’s try and do as much as we can with what we’ve got because we’ve got things coming up you want to do well for.’”
First up, the American Track League opener at Arkansas’s facility (January 24), where Nageotte’s opponents will include Sandi Morris on the World & Olympic silver medalist’s home track.
“That’ll probably be from a short approach,” says Nageotte. “We’re just gonna play it by ear. But I definitely wanted to get at least some bars and a competition feel under my belt before I went overseas.”
When she spoke to T&FN for this story, Nageotte had plans for a series of February competitions in France. Those plans have since changed. “After speaking with several USATF medical staff, I have decided I will not travel to Europe this indoor season,” she explained via Instagram. “I’m currently in a 90-day window where I can continue to test positive, even without being ‘sick.’ It made more sense to stay and compete in the States this indoor season.”
She says, “The thing that I love about indoors is that there’s no elements and you can get into a rhythm really nicely. I’m excited as long as my body recuperates and I can kind of get back to normal. I think this indoor season could be pretty special.”
After steadily raising her game for more than a decade from the 13-0 (3.96) she cleared in ‘09 as a prep in Olmsted, Ohio, Nageotte finds herself at No. 3 on the U.S. all-time list. Of course, three vaulters will represent Team USA in Tokyo. What’s her siren call, records or the podium?
“I would say both have a very similar weight in my mind,” she says. “I think making the Olympic team is the No. 1 priority, but along the way I’m definitely training to attempt and hopefully break American Records.
“You know, the indoor World Record [Jenn Suhr’s 16-5½/5.02] is a little bit lower than the outdoor one — and I attempted that back in 2018. So those are definitely huge goals, as well. But by training and pursuing those diligently, it will set me up to be in a good spot for the Trials. I think it’s kind of nice because it is allowing me to keep the focus away from the stress that is the Olympic Trials. It’s just a very stressful situation, and so I think it’s kind of helping me to stay focused along the way and not get overwhelmed by the stresses of that meet.”
Nageotte opts for balance as she looks ahead to the OT. She says, “I definitely am confident in myself and I know that I’m in the top 3 as of right now, but the U.S. — if I have learned anything, it’s that people show up when it counts.…
“Kind of the beauty of this sport and the way they pick the team is, it really keeps you honest and, you know, gunning for it.”