It’s been a long time since little Katie Dammer took to running long distances and started racking up wins as an aspiring eighth-grader.
Those days, she just went out on a 5-kilometer jaunt for charity or fun. It usually turned into her crossing the finish line first for her age group.
Dammer found a love for her sport through all of the miles. She began an ascension to one of the best girls distance runners in the history of the Lackawanna Track Conference.
On a stifling Saturday in Shippensburg, Dammer, the most recent face of the Abington Heights girls track and field dynasty, etched her name in history and turned in a performance that will be long remembered as being a display of her intestinal fortitude, determination and athleticism.
She conquered what track and field coaches and fans refer to as the “distance double.” Competing at a high level in both the 3,200-meter and 1,600-meter races in one day at the PIAA Championship meet. It’s feared because of the physical and mental toll it can take on an athlete, and it stands as a true test of strength, speed and endurance.
At the end of her 4,800 meters of torture, Dammer had a pair of silver medals, a school and conference record, and all of the glory worthy of her championship career.
“I have no words for what this has been like,” Dammer said, fighting back tears Saturday. “To be here, in my last state meet ever, winning two silver medals is just amazing.”
Back when Dammer started following her running family to area 5K events, her abilities started to blossom.
Even before her 12th birthday, Dammer had medals draped around her neck. At the Waverly Waddle, she won the 12-under 5K in 24 minutes, 1 second.
Two years later, she led a clean sweep of the Waddle in 2014 as an eighth grader in 21:23.40 seconds winning the overall female title. Her mom, Eileen, won her age-group race, as did younger sister, Allison.
“When I was younger, I would just show up and run these road races and thought it was so much fun,” Dammer said. “That has always been the most important thing to me, and that is to have fun.”
Inspired to join the Abington Heights junior high program, Dammer grabbed a lot of attention.
That victory came after her first track season where she set records and won gold medals in the 1,600 and 800. Dammer had a best time of 5:31.56 at the Abington Heights Junior High Invitational which would have placed her eighth among the finalists as the District 2 Class 3A varsity meet that same spring.
Once she climbed to the varsity level for both cross country and track, she had no match while developing as a dominant athlete. While focused and gritty, Dammer never lost sight of being a part of the most successful program in LTC history.
Willing to always sacrifice her personal achievements for what’s best to help the team continue its more than 10 years of success and triumphs. She’s been the main cog, but also the ultimate teammate, in leading the Lady Comets to team titles at the Jordan Relays, the Robert Spagna Championships and the District 2 Class 3A Championship meets.
But, her specialty is the 1,600. As a sophomore, Dammer won the race in 4:59.53, which tickled the long-standing meet record of 4:55.04 held by Wallenpaupack legend Lisa Roder.
As a side note, Dammer added titles in the 800.
Showing a piercing competitive spirit, she won a silver medal in the 1,600 at the state meet in 4:56.47, which led to her being The Times-Tribune Female Track and Field Performer of the Year.
“After that year, I really started to get serious about running,” Dammer said. “I really wanted running to be a big part of my life.”
In her junior year, motivated to return to the state medal stand, Dammer won the district gold in 4:55.35, but just short of that coveted meet record. And a week later, she earned a second silver medal with a time of 4:48.51 which stood as the fastest ever run by a female from the LTC.
Both silver medals are worthy of much praise.
During a strong and record-setting cross country season, she committed to Georgetown University. That eased any pressure to select a college heading into the spring season.
At the Penn Relays, she finished fourth in the high school 3,000 with a time of 9:45.76 which ranks No. 6 in the country according to pa.milesplit.com.
In the postseason, Dammer did the unthinkable. At the Robert Spagna Championship meet, she won the 1,600, set a meet record in the 800 in 2:14.96, won the 3,200 and ran the anchor leg of the 1,600 relay. All in one night.
At the District 2 Class 3A Championship meet, when nobody would have blamed her if she backed off and honed in on her individual events, Dammer ran on the 3,200 relay and the 1,600 relay, and in between won the 3,200 and the 1,600 in a meet record of 4:54.24.
Most distance racers chose either the 1,600 or the 3,200 to run at the state meet. The preliminary race on Friday for the 1,600 usually creates enough caution to run only one event.
It took a little thought, but Dammer did what most shy away from.
She withstood the sweltering heat and finished second in the 3,200 to start the Saturday session, only hours after she qualified for the 1,600 final on Friday afternoon.
Her time of 10:30.79 was a career best and ranks second all time in the LTC behind only Abington Heights graduate Tessa Barrett’s 10:25.16 from 2013.
By the afternoon, with temperatures soaring into the mid-80s, Dammer took to the start line again. She stayed with the leaders and then, with a second silver medal in her grasp, found even more energy to finish strong in a career-best time of 4:47.94.
That ranks No. 21 in the country this year.
“I couldn’t have asked any more from my body,” Dammer said.
She is the only female athlete from the LTC with more than one time better than 4:50 in her career.
“I have to thank my coach (Mike Ludka), because he has been amazing in getting me ready, and I don’t give him nearly enough credit,” Dammer said. “He has helped keep me healthy and I never missed a meet.
“That’s what I am proud of too.”
Her effort, her accomplishments, her achievements, gave reason for pause and a moment for a heart-felt reflection.
And a smile.
“I’m just so glad that running will continue to be a big part of my life at Georgetown,” Dammer said. “Because, I couldn’t imagine my high school years and my life without it and what it has meant to me.”
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