From college runner to pro triathlete

Columnist's note: This is the third in a series of columns on local professional triathlete Katie Zaferes. (Née Katie Hursey.) Parts one and two of my interview with Katie focused on her background and her journey to becoming a pro.

SL: I read that you ran for five years at Syracuse University. Were you recruited to run? Did you also continue to swim while at Syracuse?


KZ: I was recruited to run at Syracuse by Coach Fox and Coach Bell [and] was [also] offered a scholarship to run. Originally I had the best intentions to swim while running at Syracuse but there wasn't much time for that. I did start swimming a little bit going into my fifth year because I no longer had cross country eligibility so that summer was my first little bit of triathlon training.

SL: At what point did cycling enter the picture? What was the impetus for transitioning from a runner to a triathlete — is triathlon something you decided to do on your own, or something your coach encouraged you to pursue?

KZ: Cycling didn't come into the picture until 2011 when I was being recruited by the USAT Collegiate Recruitment Program. [USAT] looks for division I runners/swimmers with a background in the opposite. [The] theory is that they can teach you how to ride a bike. I had done a triathlon with my dad for Father's Day in 2007, but never really thought about triathlon seriously until I was approached by Barb Lindquist from USAT. It seemed like something that would be fun to try and I had no intentions of running professionally. I'd say ultimately it is something I decided to do on my own, but my Syracuse coaches were supportive.

SL: What was your first year of triathlon like? At what point did you realize you wanted to go pro and that achieving that goal was possible?

KZ: My first year of racing was awesome. I didn't really know what I was doing, but that's what made it fun. Each race I just went out and tried to improve. My first coach did a great job showing me the ropes. He had a plan and was very transparent in telling me what we were doing and how it was going to make me better. I also had a pretty good daily routine in Syracuse when I first started. I would swim with a friend who was a professor at the university, run with the team, and ride on my own.

At one of my first races I qualified for my pro license, but I didn't actually apply for my pro card until after my first year. There was only about 6 months between when I graduated in 2012 and raced in the age group elite fields, [and] moved to the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center to be part of the Collegiate Recruitment Program there. Once there, things continued to fall into place and [I was] aided in the transition to becoming a draft legal triathlete. My first ITU race was in 2013 in Clermont, Florida. I exited the water in the front pack and then found myself on the bike with some really strong cyclists including some Olympians.

I remember holding on for dear life as we whipped around the corners and I was shot off the back of every 180. At one point one of the athletes yelled, "What are you doing?" and I responded, "I have no idea!"

I was happy to finish in seventh at that race, but knew I had a long way to go.