U.S. Olympic Committee welcomes new high-performance director for Paralympic Track and Field
On the night before she would lead Northeastern University’s track and field team to New England Championships in her first year as the program’s head coach, Catherine Erickson slipped and fell, shattering her tibial plateau. For the next 18 months, the former Florida State University discus record holder coached from the sidelines with the assistance of a wheelchair and a walker.
“I went very quickly from being able-bodied to disabled,” Erickson remembered in her office at Northeastern five years later, following another New England Championships meet that saw her athletes champion the competition.
“There are pieces of my story that have impacted my entire vision on the landscape of sport. I have a unique perspective that I am excited about bringing to the elite athletes and helping them achieve greatness.”
Erickson regained her ability and continued to lead Northeastern’s track and field programs to unprecedented success – her athletes have broken more than 30 school records and added more than 300 times to the university’s All-Time Performance lists while winning seven New England Championships, working with 62 individual conference champions and sending 24 athletes to national contests – but her injury changed the way she led her teams and left her wanting more from the sport she has coached for 21 years. When the high-performance director position with Paralympic Track and Field posted last summer, she knew she needed to apply.
“As a person, you have to find the meaning in what you’re doing, and for me, this is a natural progression,” she said. “This was an opportunity for me to take everything I’ve experienced and provide that experience to athletes at the elite level.”
Since putting her name in the running for the position, Erickson has been juggling her work at Northeastern alongside conference calls and interviews with the United States Olympic Committee and the Paralympic Track and Field team, which often ran late into the night due to the time zone changes between Colorado Springs, where the USOC is based, and Northeastern in Boston. It all paid off when Erickson was hired for the position in February.
“When the call came, it was an easy decision,” she said. “My experience and everything that I have been through as a person and a coach and this position opening up, it was really kind of an ‘aha’ moment for me. This is the next step for me.”
Erickson, who had worked with USA Track and Field in the past, was first exposed to the Paralympics when she attended a community day hosted by Adaptive Sports New England in order to expose potential new athletes to a variety of sports. Erickson headed the track and field stations at the event.
“She was exceptionally positive with the athletes that came to her station and she was creative in solving the challenges that presented,” said Joe Walsh, the president of Adaptive Sports New England, who oversaw the community day event. “She was quick to get everybody involved and overcome the impairments that the athletes had in order to get them into the sport right away.”
In her role as high performance director, Erickson will be responsible for developing and implementing performance plans for Team USA and identifying and developing athletes in addition to overseeing coaches and team staff and operations for national and international Paralympic track and field contests in the United States.
“My goal is to take some of the things that I have experienced at various times in my career and incorporate them into the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field program in order to inspire athletes to achieve their goals – winning medals on the world stage.”
Jenna Ciccotelli, our first official iSpoke journalist, is a second-year journalism student at Northeastern University in Boston, where she’s already worn many hats in the independent student newspaper’s sports section, including sports editor. This year she will be working full-time as a communications assistant with Northeastern Athletics.