The combined stresses of the new jumping technique and her serious training began to splinter Ritter's young skeleton. While she was in college, she had two operations to remove bone spurs from her left ankle. And later she had surgery to repair torn cartilage in her right knee and for a torn Achilles tendon.
Yet she always healed fast, and she gained a place among a small group of women who dominated the event in the U.S. Remarkably, the three high jump slots on each of the 1976, 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic teams were filled by just four athletes: Joni Huntley, Pam Spencer, Paula Girven and Ritter.
Ritter's first shot at an Olympics, in 1980, was boycotted away. "I'd redshirted," she says. "The eggs were all in one basket. I was young. Track was my life at that point." So losing her chance to go to Moscow hit her hard. "I vowed I'd never let jumping totally dominate my life again."
She graduated in 1981, with a physical education degree, and commenced some years of, in her phrase, "floundering." She had already made her first move that year, joining a legendary pack of hard-traveling, try-anything athletes known as the Pacific Coast Club.
"The PCC had its heyday in the late '70s, early '80s." says pole vaulter Billy Olson. "It's calmed down now. Even me. Brill-o [Canadian high jumper Debbie Brill] and Kate-o [U.S. javelin thrower Kate Schmidt], boy, they made the club fun. I remember the first summer in Europe with them in 1980. I was green. But Louise was real green. Red Oak and Denton green. It was fun watching her going through it."
Exactly what was gone through is hard to pin down. Aside from stories about skinny-dipping on the Riviera, the tales all seem to be of late meets, overnight parties, red-eye flights and being abandoned somewhere near Malmö, Sweden, with 20 bags and six vaulting poles. "It was the greatest time of my life." says Olson. "I cannot explain it."
Brill and Ritter hit it off, helped coach each other and remain fast friends. "The scared kid loosened up," says Brill. "She really responded to little things Tom Jennings did for her, like getting her into the meets she wanted."
"For years she took on the Eastern European hotshots—Tamara Bykova, Kostadinova—and always got second," says Jennings, the PCC manager.
"And I went from training hard to being lazy." says Ritter. Being lazy was her salvation. "I stopped being hurt so much. I jumped better. I babied myself into a longer career."
It helped, too, that Ritter finally learned how to jump. "I was rotating my takeoff foot while it was on the ground." she says. "That was doing damage." She made the necessary correction. Lately she has yet another bone spur. "But it only hurts when I take off wrong," she says.