Per­se­ver­ance in pool pays off for Lady Knights’ Pitts

Swim­mer fights past three knee surg­eries to stay in sport.

The Times-Tribune - - SPORTS - BY JOBY FAWCETT STAFF WRITER CLAU­DIA PITTS Scran­ton se­nior

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

JAKE DANNA STEVENS / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Scran­ton’s Clau­dia Pitts wins the 50 free against West Scran­ton on Fri­day.

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