Perseverance in pool pays off for Lady Knights’ Pitts
Swimmer fights past three knee surgeries to stay in sport.
Claudia Pitts climbed out of the pool, listened to her time, and began to doubt her abilities might ever return. She lost hope.
After more than a year of rehabilitation from three surgeries on her knees, frustration overwhelmed the once-budding star of the Scranton swim team. She faced coach Dave Drouse and told him the time had come to call it a career.
Heartbroken, Pitts slowly walked away from a sport she loved.
Then, in a moment of clarity, fighting through her tears, she decided not to give in to the pain or the struggle she still faced. The next day, Pitts returned.
Since that decision, she has been one of the inspiring competitors for the Scranton Lady Knights. Pitts had a strong finish to her junior season and regained confidence in herself for one final push to the medal stand.
“I told coach I wanted to quit and it was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but coming back was the best decision I ever made,” Pitts said. “To finish that season, it was so rewarding because it was so hard with all of the surgeries.
“I may not be the best swimmer any more, but I couldn’t be more grateful just to be in the pool and to be able to swim at all.”
Swimming became a passion for Pitts the moment she jumped in the water as a 6-year-old as part of the Sea Knights program.
She had success and was eager to join the varsity team in her freshman year.
But early in the season, her troublesome knees
became too agonizing to withstand. Pitts needed reconstructive surgery on both because of an unusually long bone and kneecap displacement.
She endured two surgeries on her right knee and one on her left over the course of 10 months. They cost her the remainder of that first season and some of 2016-17.
“It was very frustrating,” Pitts said. “It was tough seeing all of my friends swimming and competing and winning, and I couldn’t.”
Then, once Pitts returned, the physical toll was compounded by the mental strain of not being up to full speed.
“That was very difficult,” Pitts said. “It was so challenging to get back into the pool. I was very worried that I wouldn’t be the swimmer I once was.”
That’s when she came to the crossroads.
It took only a night of reflection on how much more painful it would be to not continue swimming, and she changed her mind.
“That next day, I was back and coach Drouse welcomed me back,” Pitts said. “I truly was home.”
Giving her body time to recover fully, Pitts attacked her junior year.
Focusing on the breaststroke, which is her favorite event, and the individual medley, Pitts elevated herself to a top finisher during the postseason.
She placed fifth in the 200-yard IM at the Les Richards Championships with a time of 2 minutes, 31.28 seconds. Later, Pitts added a sixth-place finish in the 100 breast with a time of 1:15.95.
Her return turned triumphant. “Claudia has been a hard worker and a very dedicated swimmer,” Drouse said. “She ran into some issues with her knees, but has really worked hard to get back to where she was in regard to here times.
“I was thrilled for her. I can’t say enough good things about her. She puts her heart and soul into this and she can be very tough on herself, so I have to sometimes remind her that she can’t beat herself up. She has really been outstanding for the program.”
While nursing her body back to health, Pitts never lost sight of her life goals out of the pool.
She hopes to study and build a professional career in finance. Pitts is an honor roll student and has one of top grade-point averages in her senior class.
Balancing school and swimming, she also works as a lifeguard at Weston Park. It was there that she showed her generosity this summer. Through her church, Mary Mother of God Parish Roman Catholic Church in North Scranton, Pitts organized a collection of flip flops, bathing suits and towels for children who used the city pools.
It was an overwhelming success.
“I love being a lifeguard because I really like helping people and it’s nice to combine that with my love of swimming,” Pitts, 17, said. “Then, I wanted to give back to the kids, because I saw a lot of them were coming to the pools and swimming in their jeans. We received a lot of donations and we were able to help with supplies.
“I love seeing the little kids coming into swim and see them be so excited when they get swimsuits and towels. That makes me feel good.”
At full strength this winter, Pitts took on her senior year with the Lady Knights.
She has posted a couple of wins for the team and continues to drop her times as the postseason approaches.
Regardless of where Pitts finishes, or just how close she gets to being back to her best times, she is satisfied knowing that instead of turning away, she gave it her best shot.
And she couldn’t be happier. “My goal is to get back to my times and drop a few more seconds,” Pitts said. “I am just going to try my best. I have a very supportive team and it’s been great having the support from everyone around me.
“I love swimming, again, so much. It’s been great.” Contact the writer:
jb[email protected]rock.com; 570-348-9125; @sportstt on Twitter
Scranton’s Claudia Pitts wins the 50 free against West Scranton on Friday.