Strib: Regan Pittman Finds Herself Helping Others

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http://www.startribune.com/builled-as-a-kid-gophers-volleyball-star-regan-pittman-finds-herself-helping-others/563341162/

Rachel Blount on Regan Pittman:

The Gophers volleyball player has spent two summers as an outdoor educator in the Three Rivers Park District, spreading her love of fishing to disabled Minnesotans. That’s provided a new sense of community to a woman who describes herself as “a big misfit in a lot of areas of life.” At the same time, Pittman has become one of the Gophers’ most well-rounded and reliable players, with 116 kills and a team-high 59 blocks this season.

Volleyball has long been a refuge for the 6-5 redshirt junior. Finding another welcoming place in the parks and lakes has helped her reel in an unexpected gift: Discovering her life’s purpose.

“[Coach] Hugh [McCutcheon] and this team have helped shape who I am a lot,” said Pittman, of Spring Hill, Kan.

“But it was probably not until I started working at Three Rivers that I was really comfortable with who I was as a person. To say, ‘OK, this is me. Now, let’s build myself into the best person I can be.’

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Volleyball didn’t come into Pittman’s life until eighth grade. It provided a “safe space,” she said, for an awkward, 5-10 girl who was picked on by bullies and felt she didn’t fit in. Though she became one of the best players in the country, she never forgot how that felt.

Pittman continues to identify with people described in one of her favorite quotes, from Special Olympics athlete and board member Ben Haack: Those “who haven’t really fit a world that is built around your education, background, income and looks, a world that is essentially designed to exclude.” At French Park in Plymouth and Cleary Lake Park in Prior Lake, she is practicing inclusion, teaching people with physical and intellectual disabilities to fish and enjoy the outdoors.

She also sees herself in many girls who attend Gophers volleyball matches, who have given Pittman a sense of purpose that reaches beyond kills and digs.

“A lot of younger Gophers fans, I can just tell in their eyes that they feel like that little chunky middle-schooler that I was seven years ago,” she said. “I can sense they’ve been through stuff. And they’re so excited to see me. This is why I play. It’s not about being the Big Ten defensive player of the week, it’s about the people who support you, people who look up to you, and your teammates and coaches.”
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A recreation administration major, Pittman will graduate later this year, then pursue a master’s degree. She plans to continue working in the parks system, making outdoor recreation as inclusive as possible in all areas.
 
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