Interview with Katie Zaferes, Rio 2016 Contender

Credit: @ Delly Carr | ITU Media :: 2015 World Triathlon Series Auckland
Katie Zaferes. Née Katie Hursey. 95% of you have heard of her, and the rest of you are search index robots (not that there’s anything wrong with that). A member of Joel Filliol’s elite squad, Katie is the obvious choice to be the USA’s 3rd female Olympic triathlete in Rio this summer. Her race results page lists 9 events for 2015: 6 WTS podiums, one WTS 6th-place, 6th at the Rio test event, and what must have been an absolutely exhausted effort at the Chicago finale where she “only” finished 24th. In her short but already-illustrious career, Katie has established herself as a perennial favorite at any WTS event. This week, I caught up with Katie to discuss the Rio qualification process, intra-“office” relationships, and even adult coloring books. 

Interview with Katie Zaferes

webstey-40x40So before we get into it, let’s cut the s**t: I know you deserve to go, you (hopefully) know you deserve to go, everyone knows you deserve to go. So what do you have to do at Yokohama to qualify for Rio, and how do Abu Dhabi and Gold Coast fit into the equation? Are they just part of the preparation for Yokohama? Is it really a “one race to rule them all” kind of situation?
katieAbu Dhabi and Gold Coast are just typical races, they don’t play to much into the Olympic Qualification equation. They’re ones Joel and I picked to do that we thought would best set me up to do well in Yokohama. In order to qualify for Rio I need to be the first American on the podium who hasn’t already qualified for Rio. If I do that I automatically qualify and that is the game plan. I would like to leave nothing to chance. However, if no American is on the podium in Yokohama I do still have a chance to be on the Olympic team based on USA Triathlon’s point system. Although, the third position does become discretionary at that point so it is not a sure thing if someone decides a domestique role might be more beneficial.
webstey-40x40OK, now that that’s out of the way – this was your first year with Joel, and you got married in January of 2015. Your husband is a fellow squad member, training partner, and JFT’s newly-minted photographer – in real-world terms, you just started a new job where you not only work in the same office as your husband, but you basically share a cubicle wall. I’m interested in how all this change affected your training and stress levels – did you find it difficult to adjust to training in the squad/camp environment? Are there days when you need to just do your own thing, without the squad and/or your partner?  How does this year, your 2nd with the crew, compare to last year in terms of getting settled into training and finding a good rhythm?
katieDoing everything with my husband does bring challenges. My Garmin watch was a victim of that when I got angry at Tommy one day and threw it at the ground. However, it’s a learning process and I wouldn’t trade the set-up that I have for anything. I’m confident that I have the best environment. I love being reunited with the JFT crew and the team is a big advantage. Each of the girls on the team have their strengths and it’s awesome to have them to push me. Tommy often steps up to push me even farther. Sure there are days where I need to do my own thing. Tommy doesn’t do my morning runs with me and it’s nice that now I don’t have to just swim with him and have a whole group to swim with (Swimming with him is difficult because he laps me about 1000 times a practice). This year has been really exciting, we have some new members of the team that have greatly enhanced the environment. In addition it’s just nice to have consistency. I’m in my happy place, I know what to expect. I trust Joel, really enjoy training with a group and as a bonus Tommy is able to support not only me, but the rest of the team as well AND I get to travel with my husband. 
webstey-40x40I’ve heard Joel say on his podcast that he approaches an Olympic year mostly just like any other year. That being said, you probably have a couple of big events that dominate the others in terms of career importance this year. Has your preparation been, in fact, any different this off-season? Do you have any training benchmarks you want to nail at certain times, or do you just prefer to put your head down and get’er done?
katiePreparation has been pretty similar. Tommy and I did stay home in December rather than go to the first squad camp, but that decision was based on that we’d be gone for a while from home and had a good set up. Other than that, this season Tommy is available to train with me instead of doing his own training, so I always have a training partner when I need one. When I need to do things on my own I do that too, but really I don’t prefer to bike or swim alone for the most part. So besides a run where I get to zone out to my head phones I prefer to do most with company. As for training benchmarks that’s probably been the coolest part of this off season and beginning of the season. I didn’t feel stressed by any workouts, and have just been chipping away. In not having any benchmarks I’ve actually been surpassing anything I probably would have set for myself. It’s been fun to just work hard without focusing too much on time or power or what not, because at the end of the workouts I’ve found most often I just surprise myself. Really, I just like simple and not overthinking anything too much; just working hard.
webstey-40x40I’ve seen your blog. Which leads me to my next question: 
It’s hard enough to find the time
To write a blog that doesn’t rhyme.
Training and its endless pain
Surely drain your weary brain.
So why the poems on your blog?
Why the tiring wordplay slog?
I should shut up, as a fan
And just enjoy it while I can.
katieThe rhymes are much more fun to write,
With words just flowing from left to right.
When I have to do normal blogging,
My brain just starts bogging.
But when I get to do a rhyme,
It actually takes me half the time.
So for better or worse the rhymes will stay,
Mostly because I like it that way. 
webstey-40x40You were a (fast) runner in college. How did you figure out how to swim fast enough for a WTS front pack? Were you a high school swimmer? If so, what was your 200 fly time? Asking for a friend, who wants to see if he was faster than you (probably not).
katieThankfully I had a swim background from when I was about 8 all through high school. Even though I ran in college I would have identified myself more as a swimmer until my senior year in high school when running kind of took over. Kathleen Hersey did a 2:06.44 in the 200m fly, but Kathleen Hursey did 2:16.77 in 200y. Can I claim the first since my name only differs from hers by 1 letter? As for front pack swimming for a WTS I think it has to do with the fact that I love open water swimming, and for me the harder the better. I find it much more exciting, and I am a much better open water swimmer than I am a pool swimmer. 
webstey-40x40If you had to choose something other than “athlete”, what would your dream job be? Do you have any secret hobbies? Such as: 

– art collector
– metalwork
– adult colouring books
– cobbling
katieI would love to open a triathlon hotel in Santa Cruz. We’ve stayed at quite a few of these in Spain and I think it would be awesome to have something like it in the US. So if you know of anybody with a million dollars who’d like to invest in my idea send them my way. As for secret hobbies, I used to collect spoons, but now not so much. I do have an adult coloring book, I’ll attach a photo for your records. 
Photo credit: Katie Zaferes

Photo credit: Katie Zaferes. This is the sweetest gesture made by any interviewee in my short but already-illustrious career.

webstey-40x40Finally, please feel free to mention any sponsors/supporters, without whom none of this would be possible.
Well there’s no way I could do any of this without the support of my family and friends. It’s such a hard sport when I have to be away from relationships for sometimes nine months at a time. And then my amazing sponsors who provide me with the tools and support to make this an actual career. This year I have continued relationships with ROKA Sports, SRAM, Team Psycho, and NYAC. I also spent a lot of time testing out sunglasses this year and am really happy to have partnered with Oakley.

About the Author

Aaron 'King of All Technology' Webstey is a former ITU triathlete and current dadbod owner. If your social media posts have been 'liked' by @AaronWebstey, you might be a triathlete.