Three years and a month ago Sehome senior runner Emily Pittis had just wrapped up her first Class 2A individual state championship at Pasco when two significant thoughts, among others, popped into her head.
“I remember finishing my freshman year and thinking, ‘What just happened? What did I just do?’” Pittis reflected on in a phone interview. “I was talking to my mom, and I was so grateful it happened. It was an amazing experience, but I was also like, ‘Mom, why did this have to happen my freshman year? Now I have to come back and do this (again). Everybody is going to be looking at me to keep on going and looking at what I did.’”
Pittis’ first title foreshadowed what would become the most impressive girls’ cross country career in Whatcom County’s history. No other county girls’ runner has won three state championships as Pittis has. Squalicum’s Bronwyn Crossman was the closest, winning back-to-back titles in 2006-07.
But Pittis’ first win also cast a shadow of expectation upon the young runner, one that put a target on her back nearly every race from then on.
Still Pittis proved unfazed from the mounting pressure, showing an unbelievable level of consistency, defending her 2011 state title with a 2012 championship. She followed that title with a second-place finish her junior year before capping her career with a third state championship this fall.
She guided her team to three consecutive state titles starting with the first her sophomore season. For another outstanding year, Pittis has been selected The Bellingham Herald’s All-Whatcom County Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year, her fourth straight time earning the honor.
“It’s been an impressive four years for her, and for a female runner to have that level of consistency over four years is rarely ever seen,” Sehome coach Kevin Ryan said in a phone interview.
Personal accolade or any type of individual acclaim hasn’t been the driving force behind Pittis’ work ethic, determination and level of consistency, though. Squeezing out every ounce of potential from her team and running for the rest of the girls who make up Sehome cross country always has been her motivation. And it was no different this fall.
When Pittis had the opportunity to run a single-minded state race where she could have shaved 20 or 30 seconds off her winning run of 18 minutes, 18.20 seconds, she choose not to in order to benefit her team.
For training, when Ryan asked if she wanted different workouts crafted or if she wanted to run with the boys to foster personal development, Pittis declined, expressing the desire to run with the girls to help them improve.
It’s who Pittis has been freshman to senior year, and a large reason younger Sehome runners have developed as they have.
“I am really feeling the most joy when I stand on the podium with my team after winning,” Pittis said. “That is the high point, the highlight of my whole year, that feeling. There is nothing better than being able to celebrate something as a group that you all did together and have all the people together around you.”
Pittis has cherished each of the three times she’s had that memory, but this year was extra special. Not only was it her final season with the Mariners, she shared the team title with some of her best friends.
“I think definitely just being my last season made it pretty special,” Pittis said. “I think this has been the closest team I have ever been on all four years. We were really close as a team, and that added to the whole thing, because I’ve had close teams all four years, and there was something really special about this group of girls.”
As for the mark Pittis has left on Sehome’s cross country program, Ryan believes its a combination of showing others the basics of a strong work ethic and what fruit that can bear and also a sense of togetherness and family, and how paramount that is to team success.
Ryan reiterated Pittis’ success didn’t come easy. It’s commonplace for outsiders to think she can just show up and win, Ryan said, but the Mariners coach raved about how much work Pittis puts into the process.
“Winning is not easy,” he said. “To win and do it consistently, it takes an extreme amount of work. Some people think it’s an easy thing to happen, but the amount of work put in mentally and physically and the amount of intelligence ... it’s not an easy thing to do. Being able to show up for a big race and know every single runner is coming after you, it’s not an easy thing, and every time she answered the bell.”
Pittis, who is planning on running next year at college and is in the process of fielding offers, said she hopes what she helped accomplish, team unity and team success, will continue on after she’s gone.
“I never knew coming into high school sports would be such a big part of my life,” she said. “High school sports are a great way to make amazing friendships and really push yourself and learn about yourself. Everyone should use that experience, because it’s going to create amazing memories.”
Pittis certainly has her share to carry on into the future.