Cross country has been a family experience for Vitatoes


Harlan County High School senior Abby Vitatoe is pictured her father, HCHS cross country coach Ryan Vitatoe before a recent practice session.

When Harlan County High School senior Abby Vitatoe says she grew up around sports, she isn’t exaggerating.
As the daughter of HCHS cross country/track coach Ryan Vitatoe, Abby has been part of both programs since the beginning in the fall of 2008 and has been a member of every cross cross country team in school history with the exception of two years when she was focusing on basketball in middle school (2015 and 2016).
“I’ve been running cross country since kindergarten, and I’m excited to finish off my career,” she said. “I’ve been training hard this summer to get back in shape due to having my ankle injury last year. Cross country is easily the hardest sport I’ve ever done, but I have been part of an amazing program around teammates who are more like family and having my dad as a coach.”
“She’s grown up in the sport. I have pictures of her in an Evarts jersey as a kindergartener competing at the course I laid out in Verda,” said Ryan Vitatoe. “She started running at HCHS as a first grader and was our first competitor at the elementary level. She’s always been dedicated.”
Vitatoe is entering her third season as a captain in cross country, but she’s had her share of ups and downs, missing all of last season due to an ankle injury.
“Abby has been a steady competitor during her time in the cross country program. Her leadership with our young girls has been incredible and has been a key component in our steady improvement over the last two seasons.”
Vitatoe, a former cross country star himself at Evarts, expects his daughter to close her cross country career with a strong season.
“She’s been an important piece to our rebuilding process, offering leadership and mentorship to the young girls on how to approach practice and competition. I look for her to continue this as a senior as we expect a really good season for the girls team,” he said.
The younger Vitatoe is also a key contributor in track as one of the region’s top pole vaulters. She finished in the top five in the region all three years of competition and is the regional favorite going into her senior year.
Vitatoe knows he will miss having his daughter on the team in future seasons.
“Coaching Abby has been wonderful,” he said. “We’ve made so many good memories together that have been surrounded by this sport. I’ll definitely miss having the ‘jam sessions’ in the car on the way home after practice next year, and it will be very odd not having her on the bus with me next season. She’s grown up on a bus having Mario Kart battles on her Nintendo DS. I’ll miss that terribly. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s never been any favoritism for her. I’ve been as tough on her (maybe tougher) as I am on the rest of my team, but we’ve always had the ability to find the balance between coaching and parenting. But she’s always known when it’s practice or competition time that we are all about business, and she’s done a great job with that.”
Abby, who has a 4.0 grade point average entering her senior year, said she plans to attend Lindsey Wilson and major in education.
The HCHS cross country team is scheduled to open its season on Sept. 12 at Lynn Camp.

Abby Vitatoe is pictured with her father, Ryan, the HCHS cross country coach, and former HCHS assistant Darrell Sergent during a meet when she was in elementary school.