Katie Zaferes keeps ascending in the world of women’s triathlon.
Three years ago, the North Carroll High School graduate finished fifth in the International Triathlon Union’s World Triathlon Series. In 2016, Zaferes came in fourth after competing in the Rio Olympics.
Last year, she finished third in the ITU’s final standings. Now, Zaferes can claim a runner-up finish after participating in one of the world’s most competitive events for her sport.
Zaferes took third at the World Triathlon Grand Final on Sept. 15 in Australia, and her placement cemented a second-place finish in the overall standings.
She entered the race ranked first in the world, with Vicky Holland of Great Britain close behind. And with no other competitor close enough to contend for the top spot with one event remaining, the Grand Final turned into a head-to-head matchup.
A triathlon consists of three stages — a 1,500-kilometer swim, followed by a 38-kilometer bike ride and a 10K run.
Zaferes exited the water in third place in the Grand Final, behind Holland and British teammate Jessica Learmonth. After the bike riding portion, Zaferes contended with Holland and Aussie Ashleigh Gentle for the lead, according to an article on USA Triathlon’s website.
Gentle and Holland pulled ahead late in the run for a 1-2 finish, and Zaferes took third in 1 hour, 52.33 minutes.
“Every year I’m getting better and learning a little bit more, so I can’t fault myself for that,” Zaferes said in the USA Triathlon article. “I felt a taste of it today, where I can go and how to get there and what I need to get better with. You learn every race.”
The season was a successful one for Zaferes, even thought it started with some adversity.
Her 2018 debut came in March at the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi, but Zaferes was involved in a crash while riding her bike and didn’t finish the race. In fact, she wound up hospitalized.
The injuries didn’t deter her, however — Zaferes came back to finish on the podium (top 3) in six of her next seven events.
She won an event in Nottingham, Great Britain, in June, and followed it with a second-place finish in Montreal in late August to accumulate enough ITU points for the No. 1 ranking.
“It was a really good year for me to be that consistent and finish with a solid result at the Grand Final,” Zaferes said via email.
Holland’s silver medal at the Final propelled her into the world’s top spot, with Zaferes sitting second.
“Of course I was incredibly motivated, but also knew in order to perform well I needed to stay focused on the process and what had brought me success this season,” Zaferes said. “My goal is always to try and be the best version of myself as an athlete in every race I do.”
Zaferes said qualifying for the Olympics in 2016 and competing in Rio made her a better athlete. But it was somewhat of a start, she said.
“I feel like my journey in triathlon is just part of an evolution as an athlete,” Zaferes said. “Each year I get better and have a better understanding of what it takes to be the best. I’ve learned things about myself mentally and physically that has led to my consistency. Being able to have a resilient and adaptable mindset for racing has been key.”
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Zaferes put together a standout high school running career at North Carroll (she was Katie Hursey then).
She starred on the Panthers’ cross country team and earned Times Runner of the Year awards in 2005 and 2006.
She added a Times Indoor Track Athlete of the Year honor in 2007, and finished with three Track & Field Athlete of the Year awards from 2005-07.
Zaferes attended Syracuse University after high school and ran track for the Orange, then got involved in ITU competitions. Her first big event came in 2013, and success has followed.
Zaferes has logged 49 events, according to triathlon.org, and posted seven wins with 24 podium finishes.
And hopefully more to come, she said.
“I … take a lot more ownership in my training and racing which I think has come with maturing as an athlete,” Zaferes said. “A lot of it is all based on keeping focused and trusting in the process.”