Cathy Carroll Oerter was a true pioneer in women’s track and field at Iowa State. Her efforts set the table for one of the greatest track dynasties in the 1970s, helping the team gain club status (1970-71) and varsity status (1972-73).
A native of Collins, Iowa, Carroll Oerter graduated from tiny Collins High School in 1970 as one of the most decorated girls prep track athletes in Iowa history. At the 1970 state meet, Carroll Oerter won four individual titles (60, 100, 200 and long jump), scoring all 24 team points to pace Collins to a third-place showing.
Carroll Oerter became one of ISU head coach Chris Murray’s first stars on the track, as the women’s program went from club status to a university sponsored sport. In the early days of Carroll Oerter’s time at ISU, all track athletes paid to participate. They received no scholarships and there was virtually no budget for day-to-day costs.
Carroll Oerter claimed her first Big Eight Conference title in 1973, winning the 60-meter dash at the 1973 indoor championships. The 1974 season was pivotal for Carroll Oerter and the Cyclones. Under the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) banner, the Cyclones were on the brink of an incredible run of success. Carroll Oerter won a pair of Big Eight outdoor titles (100-yard dash, long jump), as the Cyclones cruised to their first league title.
ISU then traveled to Denton, Texas, to participate in its first AIAW national track and field competition. Carroll Oerter’s 440 relay team (Carroll Oerter, Elaine MacAlexander, Deb Ward, Sherry Edwards) set a national championship record to help ISU place fifth as a team. It was the first ISU women’s team to earn a national title. She earned All-America honors in four events at the 1974 AIAW Championships her senior season, placing third in the long jump, sixth in the 100-yard dash and fourth in the 4x110-yard relay.
Carroll Oerter continued her track and field career, competing internationally for the United States. She won competitions in Mexico and Martinique in the long jump. She finished second in the long jump at the USA National AAU Indoor Championships in 1976, a preview to the Olympic Trials later that summer. In 1989, she placed third in the long jump at the World Veterans Games.
Carroll Oerter married Al Oerter, four-time Olympic Gold Medalist in the discus (1956, 1960, 1964, 1968), in 1982. They were married 25 years until his death in October of 2007. She was inducted into the Iowa Association of Track Coaches (IATC) Hall of Fame in 1990.