Kate Perryman, senior at North Forsyth High School, grew up believing that she was going to play volleyball — that her sport was going to be the focus of her life — and she would move on to being a student-athlete in college. Little did she know that a meeting with a coach from the Air Force Academy would change her trajectory for her future completely.
“[Going to the Air Force Academy] is obviously not something that 10-year-old Kate was thinking, like, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to go into the military,’” Kate said. “But it really grew into a passion for me for being in the military over the last couple years.”
Kate did not think about going to the Air Force Academy until she was approached by one of their volleyball coaches at Nationals last year in July of 2019. Her mother, Beth Perryman, said that she and her family were surprised that Kate was so insistent about applying to the Air Force Academy, but above every other emotion, they were proud of her.
“I think we felt a mixture of surprise and pride; that this is something that she was considering and really felt would be a good fit for her,” Beth Perryman said. “It was a little bit shocking because your 16-year-old just comes up and says, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to make a decision that’s going to, at the very minimum, take up the next 10 years of my life.’ So we were surprised because everything she had been geared towards had been athletics … but then the conversations switched and were about studying and becoming a leader and ideas bigger than just athletics.”
Before Kate began her application process to the Air Force, she was first recruited by the Academy for volleyball. After speaking with one of the Academy’s coaches at Nationals last year, Kate and her parents took a trip to Colorado to visit the Academy. While she was there, Kate was able to practice with the volleyball team and even play a game with them, all to see if she felt like she fit well with the other cadets.
“It’s actually kind of a funny story,” Beth said. “The whole time she was playing, she was so super crazy tense, so no one knew if she liked [the team] or not.”
Coaches, team members and her own family were surprised when Kate immediately accepted the offered spot on the team. Everybody was thrilled.
“Her dad even got a little teary-eyed,” Beth said.
But this was only the beginning of Kate’s journey to apply and enter into the Air Force Academy. The next step was to wait for the application to open the following year and to begin the process of accumulating recommendation letters, writing multiple different essays and performing well in a physical fitness exam.
The physical exam was only a small part of the process, as Kate explained. It was comprised of push-ups, sit-ups, running a timed mile and more. While Kate was already an impressive athlete, she trained with a CrossFit trainer named Elizabeth Bradley who works at CrossFit Lanier.
“It was really cool to be able to talk to [Elizabeth] athlete-to-athlete and say like, ‘These are my goals, and we have six weeks to get to them,’” Kate said. “She really pushed me and has been such a huge support system for me.”
Kate explained that coming out of quarantine and training for the physical exam was difficult, but she was able to get through it all thanks to her trainer. She had the most difficulty with the mile run because she said while she was a skilled athlete, she had never had to run a mile during a volleyball game before.
As challenging as training for the physical exam was, Kate said she felt like the written component of the Air Force Academy application was tougher for her. Not only did she have to write essays, but she also had to learn how to speak well and apply discipline and time management skills throughout the entire process.
Kate began her written preparations for the Air Force Academy in July of this year, starting with printing out an 80-page booklet of due dates, tasks and application requirements. She said that she grew up thinking she would only write one college essay in her life, but in the end of her Air Force Academy application, her mother estimated her total around nine.
The Air Force Academy requires all who apply to receive a nomination from either their district congressman, state Senators or the Vice President. Kate sent applications to Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and Congressman Doug Collins. After a thorough application, different essays and an interview panel, Kate was selected as one of Congressman Doug Collins’ nominations.
“Sometimes athletes don’t get [a nomination], because sometimes Senators think the Academy is going to get athletes in anyway,” Kate said, “But it’s really rewarding for me that my academics got me [my nomination], because it’s something I’ve been working really hard on. So it’s all coming full-circle which is cool.”
Kate’s interview panel for Doug Collins consisted of retired military; people who had gone to a military academy. She remembered having two retired Army, two Air Force graduates and a West Point grad. After asking her questions, the panel of military personnel screened the candidates and offered their nominations to Doug Collins. Whoever the panel recommends typically gets a nomination, and Kate was so thankful to all those that prepared her for her interview panel.
She said her oldest brother, Sam Perryman, helped her prepare for her interview. Having just gotten a job himself, he was well-versed in the “dos and don’ts” of interviewing. Kate said that she was glad he was able to give her pointers about how to act during the panel.
Kate was also very grateful for her Admission Liaison Officer (ALO), William Faris. Each applicant to the Air Force Academy is assigned an ALO depending on their regional location to help coach the students through the application process.
“[William] was really awesome because he … was kind enough to coach me through the interview process and tell me which kinds of questions I would probably be asked, how I should answer them —just common interview stuff,” Kate said.
Kate and her family worked for close to six months on her application, and it was only just recently that they found out she had been awarded a nomination and received a letter of assurance from the Academy. Beth explained that everything happened for Kate within the span of a week — signing for the Air Force’s volleyball team, receiving her nomination in the mail and the letter of assurance.
“It’s been an amazing journey, and it’s one of the longest commitment processes with no reward along the way,” Beth said. “Everyone is committed to school, but you take a test, get a grade and you get validation. There’s been that constant positive feedback motivation that spurs you on, but this process was just about five and a half months of, ‘Do it the very best you can,’ and there’s no validation with that. You just had to want it bad enough that you were willing to put in all the work even knowing that it may not turn out right, and that was really hard.”
The Perryman family is grateful to everyone who helped them along the way, with special thanks from Kate to her family and friends and teachers at North Forsyth High School.
“I’m extremely blessed to have people that are kind of in my corner,” Kate said. “Every person that I’ve come in contact with at [North Forsyth High School] has only ever met me with excitement, and I truly feel like they all wanted me to get in. So that was an awesome feeling to have — to have everyone you’re talking to at school about it know that they have your back.”
Kate is planning to accept her appointment from the Air Force Academy when it arrives early next year, and she will enroll with the intended major of biology. She explained that her goal is to one day become a trauma surgeon, which means that she will have to serve a minimum of eight years. However, Kate is planning on staying longer.
“I just feel like it’s something that I’m called to do,” Kate said. “It’s a passion of mine now.”
Kate is still planning on playing volleyball for the Air Force Academy, as that has been and will continue to be another one of her passions in life. She hopes to add numbers to her totals for career blocks (436) and kills (1,366) as she continues to play at the Academy.
“I get asked all the time, ‘You’re playing volleyball as an enlisted cadet?’” Kate said. “But it’s pretty much like a normal college experience except for the military side of it. There are obviously a lot more rules, but I’m gonna go to class as a normal kid, I’m gonna play volleyball — which is something that I’ve dreamt about since I was little.”
Next steps for Kate include maintaining her physical fitness and academic success and of course, accepting her appointment as soon as it arrives. She will continue to work hard before she takes off to Colorado next summer.
“I’m excited for a change,” Kate said. “I’ve lived in Forsyth my whole life, so I think I’m ready to get out and kind of figure out who I am as a person.”