By River Mitchell
Kristen Estorge became an All-American and one of the most decorated track and field athletes in Springfield College history. But her path to both Alden Street and the sport she competed in was far from a traditional one.
Estorge, formerly Donato, grew up outside of Niagara Falls in Sanborn, N.Y., and got involved with gymnastics as a 6-year-old. She competed all throughout her childhood and some of high school as well, until she suffered a major ankle injury at age 15 when landing on a vault. This resulted in all of the tendons and ligaments being torn. This would prompt Estorage to end her career as a gymnast.
“I had been doing it since I was six years old, and I just realized I didn’t want to do it in college,” said Estorge. “I just needed to move onto something else.”
It was at this point that Estorge decided to give track and field a try after leaving the sport she loved for so many years at the age of 16, as she came to realize there were a lot of similarities between the two sports.
“The hurdles kind of reminded me of doing the leap in gymnastics,” said Estorge. “I got introduced to the multi events, which was like gymnastics. We do the four events, and in the multi events you do 5-7 depending. So it was kind of like gymnastics, like if you bomb one, you can recover on another event.”
Even with her lifelong sport of gymnastics totally out the window, she quickly came to realize that track and field was a sport she absolutely loved. Not only that, but Estorge also realized she had a knack for it. She became so good that she eventually got inducted into the Hall of Fame at Niagara Wheatfield High School in 2018. This was despite her only competing in the sport for two years.
“I rolled right into it, and I absolutely loved it,” said Estorge. “I tried out and I did awesome. My first year just winging it, I made it to the state championships in New York, which was kind of a big deal.”
Estorge was recruited pretty lightly out of high school, but the University of Buffalo, where she was offered a full-ride scholarship, showed a lot of interest. However, because Buffalo didn’t have a physical education program, she decided to commit to Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, where she was also recruited. It didn’t end up being a very good fit.
“I hated it,” Estorge said. “I was stuck on top of a hill, with no car, and there were like 3,000 people in the town.”
But that wasn’t the only reason why Estorge hated it.
“The track coach there did not know what he was doing. He specialized in a different area,” Estorge said. “And then I was studying physical education, and the program was so weak. All I was doing was liberal arts classes, like studying hundreds of art pictures and who the artists were and I’m like, ‘What does this have to do with PE?’”
With Estorge seemingly not enjoying anything about the school, she decided to transfer after her first year. It became clear to her that Springfield College would be a great fit.
“My friend that I went to high school with actually was running cross country and track at Springfield College, and had said how awesome it was,” said Estorge. “I knew they had a great PE program. So I looked into it, and I actually transferred there my sophomore year.”
This would end up being one of the best decisions Estorge made during her lifetime, as she immediately fell in love with the school.
“Everything was related to my major, I loved it, it was sports-oriented, everyone was cool,” Estorge said. “I loved being there, I fit in with everyone that didn’t go home all the time, I had a family doing track and field. People make an effort to hold the door, be polite, and they’re very conscious about being kind to one another.”
During Estorge’s time at Springfield College she won All-American honors for indoor and outdoor track. In indoor, she earned national recognition in 1997 for the 1600-meter relay, 55-meter hurdles and 400-meter dash. She also was an outdoor track All-American for the heptathlon in 1996 and 1997.
“It was obviously awesome,” Estorge said. “It was just a culmination of all my hard work and all the time I had put in. To peak at that moment was pretty cool.”
But Estorge took away so much more than just the awards.
“It was a very defining time in my life that was very positive, and has definitely contributed and enhanced who I am today,” Estorge said.
After finishing her undergrad, Estorge came back and graduated with a master’s degree in 2000 in Athletic Administration. Since then, Estorge has worked at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, raised a family and has also lived in several states such as Delaware, North Carolina, Alabama, and more. She has returned to her first sport, coaching gymnastics, and owned her own gymnastics business. She now teaches high school gymnastics at Baton Rouge High School in Baton Rouge, La.
In April, she will be inducted into the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2023.
“It’s an honor,” said Estorge. “I’m so proud to say that I’m an alumni of Springfield College.”
Photo Courtesy Springfield College Archives