The Right Fit: Fitter Looking to All-American at NCAA Track and Field Championships
KEENE, N.H. 5/23/12 – George and Rae Fitter might need a little cat nap during the day on Friday. The couple from Branford, Conn., will be up late on Friday night watching their daughter Maggie compete for Keene State College in the preliminaries of the 800-meter race at the NCAA Division III outdoor track and field championships at Claremont McKenna-Harvey Mudd-Scripps Colleges in California. “We’ll make it,” said Rae, who invited Maggie’s high school coach, Kevin Connell, over to watch the race, which begins at 10:10 p.m. Eastern time.
A junior at Keene State, Fitter earned a trip to the national championships after winning the 800-meter race at the New England Division III championships at MIT earlier this month with a personal best time of 2:11.10.
Fitter was so caught up in the moment she didn’t even realize she’d won the race. “I lost track where I was in the race and didn’t know I won until they announced it,” said Fitter, who improved her PR by four seconds. “I was really excited.”
Keene State coach Peter Thomas altered Fitter’s strategy for the race. “Maggie has always wanted to stay at the back of the pack and try to outkick people, but that doesn’t win you races in that type of competition,” said the Owls’ longtime coach. “This time she stayed in third and kept within reach of the lead.”
A devoted soccer player growing up, Maggie eventually followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Elizabeth, and began running.
While Maggie continued to play soccer at Branford High and served as the Hornets team captain as a senior, she also began to make strides on the track. Her 2009 sprint medley relay won the Class M state championship and placed second at the open state meet. She capped off her outdoor track career at Branford High by winning the 800 and was a member of the Hornets’ 4x800 relay team that won the state (Class MM) title and went on to race at the national championships in North Carolina.
Although Maggie thought about playing soccer at Keene State, she decided to concentrate on track and get in shape by running on the school’s cross country team.
Fitter’s cross country career at Keene State didn’t get off to a good start. After overcoming a case of mono right before the start of her freshman season, Fitter slowly got her legs underneath her and began to climb the Owls’ cross country ladder. “It was definitely a jump from high school, and double the mileage,” said Fitter.
Making progress on the trails, Fitter moved into Keene State’s lead pack as a sophomore and came up just a few spots short of qualifying for the NCAA cross country championships this past fall.
As a sophomore, she was a member of Keene State’s distance medley relay team, which earned All-America honors with their third-place finish at the NCAA indoor track championships, but she hobbled through the outdoor season with a strained calf injury that wouldn’t go away.
Coming off a strong cross country season this fall, Fitter won the 600 and the 1,000-meter races at the Little East Conference indoor championships before being slowed by a strained Achilles tendon. “If Maggie hadn’t strained her Achilles, she would’ve qualified for the indoor championships in the mile,” said Thomas. “She ran a 5:01 in January, but didn’t get to run it again.”
Asked what Fitter’s goals were for the spring track season, Thomas simply replied, “To stay healthy.”
A fit Fitter has stayed away from the trainer’s table and stayed on the track this spring. Hitting her stride midway, Fitter has owned the 800-meter race, winning the event at the Little East, New England Division III, and ECAC championships.
Fitter knows she will be tested against a strong national Division III field at the NCAA championships. “I’d like to finish in the top eight and come home with All-America, but I know it won’t be easy,” said Fitter.
Seeded 14th in the field of 22 runners, Fitter, who will race in the first of three heats on Friday, will have to finish among the top nine in the preliminaries to advance to Saturday’s final.
Thomas said Fitter has no room for error. "Maggie doesn't have the leg speed of most of the runners, so she's needs to stay in the middle of the pack and trust her strength to stay in contention," he said.
Watching the race back in Branford, Rae Fitter admits she’ll be a little nervous watching her daughter circle the track. “We want her to do well, so we do get a little anxious when she’s not in front of the start of the race,” she said. “But she finds a way to get to the front at the end, when it counts the most.”