Zaferes wants to 'fulfill the entire dream'

Zaferes wants to 'fulfill the entire dream'
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 31: Katie Zaferes of America exits the water after the swim leg during the Vitality World Triathlon London - ITU World Championships Series at Hyde Park on May 31, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD ** (Charlie Crowhurst / Getty Images)

As a freshman at North Carroll High School, Katie Zaferes — then Katie Hursey — went out for JV soccer in the fall, and lacrosse in the spring. Even as a young athlete, she was seen by her coaches as talented and they knew she would be capable of impressive things when she found her sport.

The next year, she left lacrosse for outdoor track. As a junior, she completed the transition and left soccer for cross country.


Once she found running to be her strength, she devoted herself to it full-time.

"The first time she did a race in high school, she did it so well and so fast that I thought my watch was broken," North Carroll track and field coach Jim MacDonald said. "From her first track meet, she was phenomenal."

And then some. Hursey earned four Times Athlete of the Year awards between indoor and outdoor track, along with a pair of Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year honors, before graduating in 2007.

Despite her high school and collegiate accolades — earned at Syracuse University, where she won races in the 3,000-meter steeple, and even represented her school at the NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships — Zaferes, 26, has proven running isn't her only love, nor her sole talent.

Following graduation, Zaferes shifted her focus to triathlon, and after finding early success in the sport, she has high hopes of competing on the world's biggest stage: the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"Everything's been a surprise, and I still think I'm the luckiest person in the world because I've been given these opportunities," Zaferes said from Germany as she prepared for Saturday's ITU World Triathlon Hamberg. "Going to the Olympics is a real potential. I think I can do it. I'm capable of doing it. That's been pretty neat, just to have it in reach."

She finished sixth at the German race, which was her worst mark of the year. Still, according to the International Triathlon Union, Zaferes is currently the No. 2 ranked female athlete in the world for the sport. Among her fellow Americans, Gwen Jorgensen is No. 1, while Sarah True is No. 3, and Lindsey Jerdonek is No. 14.

Zaferes must be one of the top two Americans in the top eight finishers at the Olympic qualifier in Rio on Aug. 2 if she wants to compete for a gold medal next year.

As she prepares to take on the course in Brazil, Zaferes gains confidence knowing she's strong in all disciplines of the triathlon. Her biking and swimming are just as strong as her running, she said, which suits her well heading into the biggest race of her year.

Other than keeping up with her training, Zaferes is doing her best to maintain her composure despite the big stage.

"What's funny is that I try not to think about it too much, and just make it like any other race," she said.

So far this year, Zaferes has kept up that pace. She finished second at the ITU World Triathlon in London in May, Cape Town in April, and Auckland and Abu Dhabi in March. She finished third at the Gold Coast race in Australia in April.

Her husband, Tommy Zaferes, is a former professional swimmer who is also training for the Olympics. The two are part of the JFT Racing team, coached by Joel Filliol.

Though Zaferes didn't fully make the move to triathlon until after her days running with the Orange, it was a Father's Day triathlon in 2007 that piqued her interest. The annual South Carroll Swim Club event has since attracted the whole family to run with Zaferes' dad, Bill Hursey. Zaferes herself even kept up the tradition for a few years before her collegiate and professional career started to get in the way.


Now, Hursey watches his daughter from home when he can. Saturday's race was no exception.

"The thing I enjoy about watching Katie ... she's a very strong competitor, but she puts things in perspective," he said. "I always tell her before every race to run hard, but most of all, have fun."

Keeping a level head is just one of Zaferes' strengths as she trains for the Olympics. Being able to see the world as a part of her profession is another way she's able to take a step back and appreciate the little things.

This year alone, she's traveled to multiple countries just to race, and others for various training programs.

"I'm exploring new places as my job, and seeing places people don't get to see because I'm on a couple-hour bike ride," she said.

While Hursey is one of his daughter's biggest fans, he jokingly admitted he has a hard time watching a complete race, and often has a bad habit of leaving the room and hiding somewhere in the house for a bit. Aside from the nerves, the draft-style racing in the sport makes for potential dangerous situations for competitors, and can be tough to watch at times. Zaferes has been involved in crashes in the past.

Still, the family plans to keep a close eye on Zaferes, as this is the most crucial part of her year. In fewer than two weeks, her Olympic fate will be decided.

She's still trying to keep things in focus, but Zaferes said the promise of an Olympic medal will "fulfill the entire dream."

The pride in competing in the event at the highest level, wearing her country's colors, is just as enticing.

"To get there would be pretty amazing, in that every time you stand on the podium, your flag is raised and you're listening to your national anthem," she said. "It's a really cool feeling to represent your country in that way."