In recent competition, Megan Pitzman has been the first Homer High School runner on the girls’ cross country team to cross the finish line, helping the Mariner girls claim first place.
While she may be part of the Chapple clan, a well-known running family in Homer, the 14-year-old freshman is blazing a trail of her own making.
“I definitely know I have the running genes, and I want to take advantage of that like my family did, but it’s fully my choice,” said Megan, making it clear that even though her great-grandfather, the late John Chapple Jr., ran in the 1947 Boston Marathon and was clocking 13.5-minute-miles at the age of 83, her interest in running is strictly hers. “It’s what I want to do with my extracurricular time.”
Megan’s aunt, Jennifer Chapple Waltenbaugh, also a runner, entered Megan in her first race, a community fun-run in Kodiak when Megan was in the third grade.
“When the race started, Megan surprised everyone and took off like she was shot out of a cannon,” said her mother, Stephanie Pitzman, recalling that high school boys who were acting as trail leaders for younger runners had to pick up their pace to stay ahead of Megan.
“As the runners disappeared into the wooded part of the trail, my sister thought Meg would burn out quickly and end up at the back of the pack, but when they re-emerged, there she was, beaming in on the finish line as no. 1, still right on the heels of those high school kids.”
Megan has been a repeat runner in the Shorebird Festival’s 5K Migration Run and the 10K Homer Spit Run. She ran cross country at West Homer Elementary School and Homer Middle School, qualifying for the presidential fitness award at both schools. She’s run in the five-mile Kachemak Bay Family Planning Center’s Breast Cancer Run and the 5K Run for Leo. She also has successfully completed the grueling Mt. Marathon junior competition. In 2010, while visiting family in Florida, she and her grandfather, John Chapple III, ran the 10K St. Petersburg Turkey Trot.
“I’ve known about Megan from some of the community races,” said Bill Steyer, head coach for Homer High’s cross country team, remembering “this little girl who liked to be at the front of the pack.”
Last spring, when Steyer visited Homer Middle School to talk to students about the high school cross country program, Megan was among those expressing interest. Her commitment to running, as well as her potential, stood out when she joined other Homer High cross country runners at the Steens Mountain High Altitude Running Camp in Oregon during the summer.
“One of the last running events is an uphill 5K and it’s at 9,000 feet and it’s 90 degrees out and (Megan) competed against about 100 of some of the best runners in the Northwest and the country and, as a freshman, she came in 24th place,” said Steyer. “It was like, wow, she’s tough, really mentally tough.”
For Megan, the camp was an opportunity to learn more about her strengths and how to improve.
“I learned I really could survive 28 miles in one day, in the hot sun, at high altitudes, on all sorts of terrain,” she said. “But more importantly, I also learned a lot of tips and techniques from professionals, even Olympic runners and coaches.”
Becoming part of the high school team was an easy decision.
“I was spending my whole summer running and I wanted to be involved in the serious and the competitive side of running,” she said, adding that she enjoys being part of a team. “Most people think that it’s an individual sport, but we have team support and we all work together.”
Having a large family may have something to do with Megan’s team perspective. It also provides her with plenty of support.
“We encourage all of our kids to be active and involved, not just in sports, but in music, school activities and community events,” said Pitzman. “They love sports, so participation is the easy part, and they are each other’s biggest fans.”
While physique is part of what makes a good runner, “true competitive grit” also is a key component, said Steyer. That is something Megan has.
“I’ve seen her when she wasn’t as fit, working extremely hard to stick with the front runners, the more conditioned older runners, just because she wanted to be up there,” he said. “She’s mentally tough.”
Recognizing her own endurance and long legs, Megan said, “I think the physical ability gets you started, but to accomplish serious running goals, you definitely need mental determination and the drive and desire to keep going.”
That mindset will work in her favor, no matter where the future takes her.
“I never want Megan to look back and feel like she missed an opportunity, in whatever activity, for whatever reason,” said Pitzman. “I want her to keep setting goals for herself, do what she enjoys and rise to new challenges.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.