Caroline Pingatore Holmes ’69: “Olympic Spirit”

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Courtesy: Caroline Pingatore Holmes

Caroline Pingatore Holmes was captain of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and made lifelong contributions to the Olympic Movement and Washington State Gymnastics.


Caroline “Ping” Pingatore Holmes grew up in Burien and attended Hazel Valley Elementary and Puget Sound Junior High (now Haggen grocery store).

At 13 years old, her mom encouraged her to participate in a two-week summer gymnastics program where she “fell in love” with the sport.  She did so well that her teacher took her to the Downtown Seattle YMCA where she trained under legendary coach George Lewis, considered the “father of women’s gymnastics in Washington State.”

For the next four years, every day after school (rain, sleet or snow) Pingatore ran–yes, ran!–20 blocks from Evergreen to catch the bus downtown to train.  She practiced every night for 5.5 hours (and 7 hours on weekends), getting home by 11pm to start her homework.

“I never thought of it as a sacrifice,” she said, “because that was what I loved to do.  My mom said that if I missed school, I wasn’t going to the gym.  And I couldn’t let the girls at the gym get in one more practice than me.”

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Courtesy: Caroline Pingatore Holmes

Pingatore said the Evergreen administration, and PE teachers like Doris Burdin were really supportive of her and her passion for gymnastics.

Most girls started doing gymnastics when they were 3 or 4 years old. Caroline Pingatore started at 13 and made the Olympic team at 17.

Asked what inspired her to even consider training for the Olympics, Pingatore said it was a brief conversation with 1964 Olympian Dale McClements-Kephart.

“I had no idea what she looked like (referring to Olympian McClements-Kephart), but she came over to me while I was practicing on the beam and said: ‘If you keep working like you are tonight, you’ll make the Olympic Team someday.’

Pingatore said that at the time “most people didn’t understand a female having these goals.”  From 1965-1969, Pingatore was a leader on the Seattle team that won the YMCA national championships.  Individually, Pingatore was the YMCA national champ on the uneven bars, the vault and the all-around.

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Caroline Pingatore in the vault competition at the 1968 YMCA national championships. She won the national title and national junior title (Courtesy: Caroline Pingatore Holmes)

During the summer of 1968, Pingatore competed in the Olympic trials in Long Beach, CA.  She made the cut and traveled to South Lake Tahoe and Denver for high-altitude training.

“You had to be tough,” she said.  “You worked out eight hours a day for six weeks.”  Her hard work paid off–Pingatore was named captain of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.

When Pingatore arrived in Mexico City, it was her first time in a foreign country. Until 1968, the Americans had never won an Olympic medal in girls gymnastics.  The team had never finished above 15th so Pingatore’s team set a goal of finishing 10th.  They took sixth place.

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Essence of the Olympic Spirit

In October 1968, Pingatore returned to Evergreen for her senior year.  “Too many people didn’t know what I was up to,” she said.  “So it was a very proud moment when the principals, teachers, students and band all welcomed me back.  Senior year was a lot of fun.”

“I’m very proud of graduating from Evergreen,” she said.  “When we were in school, we were all one big family.  When I was a student, Evergreen was very economically diverse, but today’s ethnic diversity makes it such a richer experience.  Growing up in such a melting pot prepares you for life.”

After Evergreen, Pingatore received a full-ride scholarship to Southern Illinois University–the first full-ride athletic scholarship for any female in the State of Washington.  She also married Terry Holmes ’65, a fellow Wolverine; their daughter Angie graduated from EHS in 1991.

Now Caroline Pingatore Holmes, she served as a delegate on the U.S. Olympic Committee for over 25 years, raising more than $10 million, and twice carried the Olympic torch.  Holmes also founded Washington State Olympics Alumni in 1977, and was president for over 30 years.

Holmes said she always wanted to be a teacher.  For 30 years, she coached gymnastics at all levels, helping to inspire kids to be “the best they could be.” She owned a gymnastics school and coached gymnastics at Glacier and Mount Rainier High Schools, where she said “the gymnastics team was larger than the football team.”

SEAHAWKS ALLEN

Courtesy: Seattle Seahawks

In 1996, she cold-called Paul Allen to convince him to re-design Seahawks Stadium.  She told him that his proposed stadium needed to have a bigger field in order for Seattle to attract a future Olympics and host international soccer.  Allen’s initial response was “who are you?” but her persistence paid off.  Allen said he would re-design the stadium if she would help him promote it to voters.

For six months, she toured every city and small town in Washington with Seahawks coaches, cheerleaders, and legends like Jim Zorn and Steve Largent.  As you know, the vote passed, the Seahawks stayed in Seattle, and the rest is history.

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At the induction of the inaugural class of the Washington State Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Caroline Pingatore Holmes with UW men’s coach Eric Hughes and her own YMCA coach Dale Shirley (Courtesy: Caroline Pingatore Holmes)

In 2002, Holmes was inducted into the inaugural class of the Washington State Gymnastics Hall of Fame, which she considers one of her proudest accomplishments.  Holmes was inducted along with her own YMCA coaches George Lewis and Dale Shirley.

Over her life, Holmes has befriended four presidents, six governors, and athletes from all over the world.  Her hope is to inspire other Wolverines to reach for their dreams.

She recalls the brief conversation she had with an Olympian back in 1964.  “It’s the little things that someone can say to you,” she said.  “If you believe in yourself, and someone else does too, then the sky’s the limit.”


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