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Lizard Spotlight

Lizard Spotlight – Kate Mactavish

By Joanna Harper

Kate Mactavish, Ph.D. is a professor at Oregon State University, a mother of two daughters, a loving wife, and one of the few fifty year old women on the planet to have beaten Carmen Troncoso in a foot race. She was also just named as the USATF Oregon female master’s runner of 2013.

Kate was born in Levittown, New Jersey on January 11th, 1963. When she was twelve, her father retired from the military, and her family moved to Winter Park, Florida. While she enjoyed some early success in track and field – she set the county high jump record while in junior high, she was primarily a dancer until she was sixteen.

Kate’s mom had enrolled her in ballet classes, in part, as remedy for being pigeon toed. Kate danced seven days a week, and was certain that she would, one day, dance professionally. Kate was accepted as an apprentice with the company that would become the Orlando Ballet. It soon became apparent that, while her jumping was exceptional, the rest of her repertoire was not as good. She gave up dancing as a high school sophomore, and turned to track to fill the void.

At her first practice, she broke the school’s record for the 440, and one can imagine that the coach would have been over the moon. By the time she was a senior, she won the 4A state cross country title, placed second in the mile, third in the two mile and also picked up a medal in the high jump, with a 5′ 7 ½” clearance.

After the passage of title nine in 1972, collegiate athletics had opened its doors to women. By the time of Kate’s graduation in 1981, most major universities were offering athletic scholarships. Several schools contacted her, including the University of Oregon, but she wound up signing with Florida State. It turned out to be a poor choice; the coach had issues with her vegetarian diet and her interest in academics, both of which he deemed incompatible with rigorous training. She revoked her scholarship before running a single race.

This started her on a nomadic path that would see her attend four schools in four states, before she finally graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in art education at the age of 28. She completed a master’s degree – also at UNM, in early childhood special education, while teaching full time and raising her first daughter Amanda.

It was also in New Mexico that she met her future husband. Drew was a new teacher and another runner. Kate still remembers their first run together; it was under a full moon. After five years of teaching, she enrolled at the University of Illinois, in order to study for a Ph.D. in human and community development. She completed her dissertation in 2001: the same year that she and Drew were married on the Isle of Skye in Scotland – Kate’s ancestors are Scottish.

Kate, Drew and Amanda moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where Kate was accepted onto the faculty at Oregon State University; Drew teaches at a nearby alternative school. Their family was completed with the addition of Camilla, who was born in 2003, when Kate when was forty. Originally, they did not plan on settling in Oregon, but they found that Corvallis was a great place to raise a family, and to run, and Kate has since earned tenure with OSU.

Over the years, Kate continued to run, but hard training and racing were seldom much of a focus for her. She ran the Chicago marathon in 2000, just intending to finish, and managed a 3:36. In 2010 Amanda decided to run the Eugene half marathon and talked Kate into running the marathon. Kate ran 3:15 despite injuring her soleus, and she was hooked. She improved to 3:07 in 2011, and 2:58 in 2012. In 2013 she decided to run the half in Eugene, and ran 1:24, a PR, and an incredible performance for a fifty year old woman.

She also returned to cross country running, and this is how I met her. I remember wondering who the heck she was, as I watched her battle with the leaders at the 2010 master’s 5k XC nationals that were held in Vancouver Washington. The next year I asked her if she would be willing to join the lizards, and run for us at the club national cross country meet in Seattle. I was delighted when she replied in the affirmative.

It was at clubs XC in 2011 that she led our W40 squad to a surprise 2nd place finish, behind only the Club Northwest juggernaut, despite being the oldest runner on the team at forty eight. I remember that the meet announcer called us team red – omitting the lizard. My thought was that he might not have heard of us yet, but he will, soon enough. The addition of Kate has been a huge part of the growing national recognition for our master’s women squad.

Kate and Wendy Terris at Clubs XC in Seattle in 2011

Kate has had success on the track in recent years too. Perhaps her favorite track experience was running in the master’s exhibition race at the 2011 U.S.A. World Championship trials. It was her first time running at the famed Hayward track facility in Eugene, and she was thrilled to be a part of the event.

She has also run in the last three editions of the old ladies 3000 meter race, held each year as part of the Portland Track Festival. It was in this race in 2013 that she beat Carmen. She took the pace out hard and tried to stay ahead of her diminutive rival. It worked, as she finished seven seconds up on Carmen.
As if her 3000 meter and half marathon triumphs weren’t enough for the spring of 2013, Kate also ran rim to rim in the Grand Canyon to celebrate her fiftieth birthday, and the thirtieth birthday of her training partner, Paris. Kate, like almost everyone who runs the canyon, fell in love with the place, and the run. She remembers yelling “we’re doing it” and hearing the sound echo off of the canyon walls. Kate and Paris started at the north rim at 5 AM, reached the south rim before 11, and had to wait for their support crew, who were driving around the canyon.

Kate runs the Grand Canyon – May 2013

Kate was the centerpiece of my plan to defeat the mighty Impala racing team at this year’s clubs XC race. She certainly did her part, as she finished only three seconds behind Carmen, and as the first runner on any W50 team. Unfortunately, the Impalas put on a rather impressive display of team depth, and managed to edge us out by two points.

It was also unfortunate that Kate had to return to Corvallis to watch Amanda and Camilla dance in the Nutcracker that evening. She missed out on standing on the podium to accept her individual and team silver medals. I’m certain that, despite her status as one of the nation’s top fifty year olds, she is an unfamiliar face to most people. It would have been good for those runners assembled at the awards to see her from the front.

As a result of all of Kate’s successes in 2013, she was named the USATF Oregon women’s runner of the year, in the master’s division. She was not only the only lizard so honored; she was the only non BAC runner to attain this status. We are truly blessed to have such an amazing runner on our club.

Kate has not formulated concrete running plans for 2014, other than to say that she hopes to continue track and cross country racing, and that she would like to see how fast she can run for the mile. She also will be spending the summer teaching at Akita University in Japan. She is involved in a cross cultural exchange program aimed at immersing U.S. and Japanese students in real life issues facing rural communities.

I have always had the utmost respect for people who can be successful in multiple arenas and Kate’s accomplishments as a professor, family woman, and runner would certainly rank her near the top of my “most admired” list. She is also a wonderful individual, and I look forward to spending more time with her in the coming years.


One Response to “Lizard Spotlight – Kate Mactavish”

  1. Great profile! I hope to see more articles like this about Lizards and their accomplishments on the website.

    Posted by Joe D. | February 5, 2014, 7:22 am

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