Stepping off the mat: Pitt’s senior gymnasts prepare for life after graduation


Nikki Moriello | Senior Staff Photographer

By Zoë Hannah / Contributing Editor

Dipping her feet into a bowl of chalk and dusting off the excess, Miya Dotson stared down her current source of frustration — a four-foot-high balance beam — for the third time that afternoon.

With her teammates shouting “P-I-T-T” behind her, Dotson took off, leapt onto the springboard, tucked her body and flipped forward.

This time, she stuck the mount — her bare toes clenching the edges of the beam. Seniors Lindsay Offutt, Tiara Chadran and Lisa Soto shouted their teammate’s name as Dotson doled out high-fives, marking the end of an hour-long skill practice Tuesday in Trees Hall.

Between training for their last eight East Atlantic Gymnastics League meets and looking forward to the Pitt-hosted regional championships March 19, the four competing seniors haven’t had much time to reflect on the end of their gymnastics careers. Though the gymnasts have dedicated their lives, and 20 hours out of every week to the sport, none of them plan to graduate to the Olympic or national teams.

Now, they face an entirely new kind of pressure — the pressure to build a career outside of gymnastics.

“Gymnasts a lot of times are characterized as control freaks or perfectionists, right?” Dotson said. “So to not have that stability or that sense of [thinking] you know what’s going to happen, or how you’re going to be, or who you’re going to be, that is very scary.”

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After winning first place against the University of New Hampshire Jan. 23, Pitt’s gymnastics team is perfecting its routines before another meet Saturday in North Carolina.

At a weekly practice, head coach Debbie Yohman reflected on Offutt, Chadran and Soto’s first season at Pitt as the girls practiced layouts and punch fronts on the floor. Yohman said she knew they were natural leaders when they traveled to the NCAA regional championships April 2013.

“They have carried the load — when they were freshmen, when they were sophomores, when they were juniors and when they were seniors,” Yohman said. “This group of kids has been the meat of my team for four years.”

Dotson, an all-around gymnast with a 38.950 record, joined Pitt gymnastics after two years at Western Michigan University. After quickly bonding with the team, Dotson said she’ll miss their comfort when she moves to Seattle after graduation, where she accepted a job at Nordstrom Headquarters.

Though she’s anxious to get settled in Seattle and start her three-year rotational program to become a financial analyst, Dotson said she won’t rush through her final months at Pitt.

“I’m just trying to take in my last moments here,” Dotson said. “I think I have to take my confidence with me, but really be open-minded and just kind of embrace whatever comes next.”

The University offers optional post-grad training, such as the Cathy and John Pelusi Life Skills Program, but no amount of preparation can prevent uncertainty in life after Pitt.

Offutt, an all-around competitor, said she’s reluctant to leave behind a sport she’s spent her life perfecting. She plans to attend law school and become a sports agent after graduation.

“Not having gymnastics is going to be weird,” Offutt, EAGL Gymnast of the Week, said. “I’d like to coach part-time just to stay with it, but at the same time, every coach I’ve spoken to said that that’s what they started doing, and then they got stuck coaching.”

Yohman said each girl’s absence will affect the team differently — for Offutt, who has an all-around record of 39.225, it’s scores and her leadership.

Soto, the team’s co-captain and an all-around competitor, has brought a hardline work ethic to the floor every day, Yohman said.

Soto, who has an all-around record of 38.425, said being a Pitt gymnast taught her how to speak up.

“Coming from freshman year, I’ve grown a lot,” Soto, who plans to go into forensic analysis, said. “I’ve grown to be more confident with my opinions, and people seem to take them in.”

Soto and Chadran work as liaisons between coaches and gymnasts to maintain a balance between an entertaining team and one that consistently exceeds expectations.

Soto said the co-captains meet out of the gym to brainstorm ways to improve the team, where, according to Chadran, they don’t always agree — but that makes problem-solving easier.

Tiara Chadran perfects her routine at practice, gearing up for a meet this weekend.

According to Yohman, the captains are leaders by example, but each in their own way.

“[Soto] just comes in and gets to work,” Yohman said. “[Chadran] is like a shoulder to lean on.”

Chadran, an uneven bars and floor competitor, with a vault record of 9.550 and an uneven bars record of 9.700, is waiting for responses from fellowship programs she’s applied to in other cities. She plans to work with children with intellectual disabilities and go to graduate school.

“I just have a passion for working with people in need,” Chadran, who travels to Haiti to do service work every summer, said. “I have a heart for children with disabilities.”

She said the scariest part of graduation is leaving a regimen with set goals for an uncertain future.

“Once I figure everything out, I feel like I’ll be comfortable,” Chadran said. “But in the meantime, I don’t know what opportunities are going to be there. That’s kinda scary.”

Yohman said she’ll miss Chadran’s caring and compassionate attitude when she graduates in the spring, but with Dotson, it’s her enthusiasm.

Dotson said her gymnastics career taught her the work ethic, discipline and time management she’ll need at her new job.

“Some of the things I’ve been doing in gymnastics and been doing my whole life, I’m gonna continue to do,” Dotson said. “I want to take those principles and those habits I’ve developed that have served me well and continue them in the future.”

Despite the seniors’ varying career paths, they all said the same thing about their team — it built a bond through tough losses and lasting support.

“I would by no means define our senior class as a clique or a group that just stays to themselves,” Dotson said.

For Yohman, new leaders will need to step up when Offutt, Soto, Chadran and Dotson graduate and leave the team. She said their absence will ripple through the other classes.

“This is a really strong, a really motivated, a really close senior class,” Yohman said. “They’ve been the leaders. There are going to be big shoes to fill.”

The team competes in North Carolina Feb. 6 and hosts the EAGL Championships March 19.

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