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‘Race hard but most of all have fun’: Hampstead native Katie Zaferes overcomes hardship, secures Olympic berth | Q&A

US triathlete Katie Zaferes crosses the finish line to win her first the world triathlon title during the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final on August 31, 2019 in Lausanne. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
US triathlete Katie Zaferes crosses the finish line to win her first the world triathlon title during the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final on August 31, 2019 in Lausanne. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images) (FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty)

Hampstead native and world champion triathlete Katie Zaferes began her journey to the Olympics in 2019 after having one of her best seasons.

Her main goal that year was to automatically qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo, but on Aug. 14 in the Olympic Qualifying Event on the Tokyo cycling course the Olympic race will be held on, she crashed and broke her nose and needed more than 20 stitches in her mouth. Two weeks later, on Aug. 31, Zaferes won the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland, to secure the world triathlon championship.

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In 2020, Zaferes competed some but put “training and racing a bit on the back burner as to conserve mental and physical energy for Tokyo in 2021,” she said.

She spent most of 2020 with her parents in the house she grew up in. She called this “a blessing in disguise” since in April her father died unexpectedly.

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Zaferes was in Europe at a training camp preparing for the season when she received the news. She flew home to be with her family before returning to Europe to finish getting ready for the final Olympic selection event. Although she said she wasn’t “really emotionally ready to race so soon” after her father’s death, she believed it was something she had to do. She finished 18th in the World Triathlon Championship Series event in Leeds, England on June 6.

Despite Zaferes being the 2019 world champion, the final Olympic selection spot came down to discretion by a selection committee, who ended up choosing her to compete.

“I’m so thankful that they believe in me as much as I believe in myself,” she said.

Leading up the Tokyo Olympics, which begin officially Friday and run through Aug. 8, Zaferes was at an altitude camp in Font Romeu, France training for competition. She said she’s excited to be competing in the event, feeling more like herself and often thinks of what her dad used to remind her: “Race hard, but most of all have fun.”

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Q: When did you live in Hampstead? Is there anything you miss about it?

A: I lived in Hampstead from birth until I went to college, and my parent’s house is still in Hampstead, so I still call it one of my homes. Last year, we spent the majority of the year living with my parents while the racing season was on hold due to COVID. I love returning to Hampstead; it always feels like home. I love running and riding my way around the area I grew up, passing by the spots where I spent most of my childhood and also exploring some new places. I love the community that is so supportive, and I would say that’s what I miss the most — my family and friends.

Q: What inspired you to work toward becoming an Olympian?

A: I was inspired to work toward becoming an Olympian in route to becoming the best version of myself on the racecourse and in general. When I was graduating college, I was given the opportunity to try triathlon through USA Triathlon’s collegiate recruitment program. In the beginning, I was just trying to learn the sport after growing up mainly running, playing soccer, lacrosse and swimming. I was watching American triathletes Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah True finish on the podiums at the highest level, and I knew I wanted to be up there on the podiums with them. They set the bar so high, and that was what I was working toward.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?

A: Some of the biggest challenges have been overcoming crashing in big races [or] before big races, learning how to become more confident and comfortable on the bike, learning how to build my mental strategy toolbox so no matter what situation I was put in I had the mental skills to handle it, and, most recently, my dad passing away.

Q: What are your favorite things about competing?

A: My favorite thing about competing is seeing all the training and preparation come together in a race and then being able to share those feelings of achieving my goals with my family and friends at the finish line. I enjoy getting to explore new places, and I love the fact that I get to do all this with my husband, Tommy Zaferes, by my side.

Q: Who are your biggest supports?

A: I’m so thankful to have such a vast community that surrounds me from all of the different places that I have called home during my life. Tommy and I wouldn’t be able to do this life if it wasn’t for so much support and guidance along the way. Of course, I would say my family is my biggest supporters as they have been there from the beginning, always there to encourage me and be there for me no matter what. Tommy is amazing as he trains with me full time while also balancing working as a photographer at the races and working for one of my sponsors. It’s really hard to narrow down the biggest supports because so many people have been a part of this journey for us, and every one has played a part in getting me to where I am. From the communities that have shaped me, sponsors, USA Triathlon, teammates, friends, family, etc., who have believed in me and really helped me become who I am today.

Q: What do you look forward to most?

A: In the very near future I look forward to using all that I’ve learned in Tokyo and finishing out this season quite strong, and then Tommy and I look forward to seeing what the next phase of life has in store for us.

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