“What makes Pittsburgh unique is the intense pride, not only in who they were, but what they are now and where they’re going. There’s optimism about the city that’s contagious.”
An Ohio native by way of Michigan, Heather Lyke is still exploring the city, but has already caught the fever Pittsburgh has for sports. Of course, it helps that she’s the athletic director for the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), the first woman to hold that post in the Panthers history.“To be a part of a place called the City of Champions where they expect success and fully embrace athletics is a wonderful thing.”
Heather has been embedded in sports her entire life and attributes a lot of who she is now as a professional to her college experience. As captain of a Big Ten Champion softball team at the University of Michigan, “being a student athlete really impacted me as a leader, as an individual, and as a team member. I realized that an opportunity to give back to the industry that gave me so much would be very rewarding.”
But initially she didn’t see athletics as a career. Heather went to law school. But while a summer intern at Cleveland-based sports marketing firm IMG, she realized that her passion for sports and legal training fit naturally into the world of compliance in college athletics. She interned with the NCAA and then accepted jobs in the athletic departments of the University of Cincinnati, The Ohio State University and, most recently, as vice president and athletics director at Eastern Michigan.
“The logos and the colors change, but you get embedded in the local sports culture and the people who make it rewarding – but going to Ohio State as a Michigan grad was a tough transition!”
Now, several months into her new position overseeing 19 teams and 450 student-athletes, Heather reflects on her latest move.”This was a huge opportunity to be part of a world-class academic and athletic program and a chance to work for a visionary leader like (Pitt Chancellor) Pat Gallagher. I knew right away I wanted to be on his team.” Heather praises Pitt’s coaches and is enjoying recruiting and nurturing bright, talented and engaging people to support and elevate Pitt athletics. “Building a team is a really fun part of my job and what I’ve been focused on in these early days. You work a lot of hours, so you have to enjoy what you do and who you work with. And I do.”
Personally, Heather is taking time to get to know the city and exploring potential neighborhoods, while her husband, David Catalano, and their three children, Elle (16), Sophie (13) and Eli (9) have finally joined her in Pittsburgh after finishing up the school year in Michigan. She often finds new places to explore on her daily runs, which she calls “a release and an addiction.”
Unsurprisingly, she attends a lot of sporting events in the city, but she and her family look forward to being outdoors and experiencing the great cultural diversity, unique food scene and activities that Pittsburgh offers in abundance. As for her role in her new city, Heather is excited for what’s to come: “There’s a feeling of physical connectivity because of the bridges and tunnels. I think that’s reflective of the people and the relationships here -- how we’re all connected.”