Katie Hursey went to Syracuse to compete in track, but she was a triathlete by the time she left.
The North Carroll alumna had known how to swim since she was young; all that remained was learning to race a bike.
"From the start, the goal was to get her to qualify for the Olympics," said Chris Fox, Hursey's coach at Syracuse.
During her senior year at Syracuse, USA Triathlon recruited Hursey to begin training for the Olympics, seeing how strong a runner she was.
Hursey, who is from Hampstead but now moves often as part of her triathlon training, is continuing her journey to qualify for the Olympic team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
As part of the qualifying process, Hursey has been competing in the International Triathlon Union's World Triathlon Series.
On Saturday, she finished seventh among women at the World Triathlon Stockholm. The final WTS event of the year will be held this coming Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta, and Hursey hopes to improve her series ranking, which Team USA takes into account when making its final selections.
Among women, she's currently 24th in the world rankings and fourth among Americans. Team USA has three women's spots in the Olympics.
Before Saturday, Hursey's best WTS finish had been at the London triathlon June 1, when she was 13th.
"I was happy with 13th, but the USA girls finished 1-2 in that race, and I knew if I was completely healthy, I could have at least been third," she said.
Hursey has struggled with health problems for several months. In April, she was competing in a WTS event in Cape Town, South Africa, when she crashed during the cycling portion of the race. One of Hursey's competitors could not stop in time and ran over Hursey with her bike, injuring several of Hursey's ribs.
During her rehabilitation, Hursey suffered an Achilles tendon injury. She recently has been in Colorado training with a Team USA track coach to regain her running form.
Hursey, 25, has been traveling and competing for several years in triathlons, but her mother, MaryLynn Hursey, said it's still tough to get used to her daughter being gone.
"We're excited for her being able to compete, but it's also hard to not be able to go to all of [the races]," MaryLynn Hursey said. "When she's on the other side of the world and getting X-rays for being injured, that's when it's really hard."
When the idea of becoming a triathlete first came up, MaryLynn Hursey and her husband, Bill, were the first to encourage Katie to start training. Her first triathlon was an amateur event that she competed in with her father.
For Fox, the decision to turn Hursey into a triathlete came naturally.
"She was a good endurance machine," the coach said. "We didn't think about it until she had run here for about three years.
"We just encouraged her because she was such a great swimmer and she was bigger than most female swimmers. She's very dedicated, and the three events doesn't seem like they would faze her. Mostly she likes to train. It's important to be able to train hard for that event. She wasn't afraid of the time commitment."
Hursey's greatest strengths in triathlons continue to be swimming and running.
She won the 2014 ITU World Cup race in New Plymouth, New Zealand, in March with a time of 57 minutes, 27 seconds. Hursey finished third in that race in the swim in 9:20 and dominated the run with a 16:26, 14 seconds faster than the second-place competitor in that phase, but finished eighth in cycling portion.
Now that Hursey is returning from her injuries, she expects to be a serious competitor for an Olympic spot and to accomplish the goals she and Fox had set during her college days.
"Pretty much, my goal is to be the best and not have to worry about it just coming down to the run," she said. "I want to be the strongest swimmer and strongest biker, too. I don't want it to come down only to the road. If I do that, I'll reach all the other goals."
MaryLynn Hursey wants her daughter to have a broader definition of success.
"As long as you're having fun along the way, look at the experiences you're having and the places you're going," she said. "We don't want her to feel like if she doesn't make it to the Olympics she's not successful, because she has been very successful."
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