For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Katie Kyme remembers watching the Ironman World Championship as a healthy little girl in her native Australia and telling her family “I’ll race there one day.” She had fallen in love with a tough sport—one that became even tougher as some strange symptoms presented themselves as an adult. “It started out as bad headaches on one side of my head,” she says. “And then if I moved too fast, I would suddenly black out, and I began to lose my hearing in my right ear.”
Scared and fearful, she went to see a specialist who confirmed her worst fears—she had a cancerous tumor—and so began a two-year stint of going in and out of hospital for surgeries and radiation treatments.
When it was all over and she was finally given the all clear, there was so much damage done to her head from the surgeries that she understood why doctors told her that physical activity would be challenging—although she didn’t really want to believe them. “I was determined to keep trying to get back into triathlon, but every time I’d go for a run I’d just get really sick, it felt like I had vertigo. Trying to bike or swim was just impossible.”
She resigned herself to a life without the sport she had fallen in love with as a youngster, but she was never truly happy about it. Years later, she was the other side of the world, living in Los Angeles and working for Disney, when a spark reignited her passion. “I found a swim group and talked to the coach, explaining I might not be able to hit the times expected of the slowest swimmers, but I promised him that I would come every day until I could. He let me, he gave me the gutter lane, and I was so stoked that day. And I stayed true to my word.”
Before she knew it, she was part of a Disney relay team for the Malibu Triathlon. The relay finish fueled a fire that Kyme thought had gone out. She made a big change, moved to San Diego, took on a new job as a regional swim director for the YMCA, and began to pick up a dream she had long since abandoned: qualifying for Kona.
It would not be an easy path, though. The surgeries had left her with an immune system that was less than robust, so the stress and strain of endurance training meant she would get sick easily, often making it tough to put together weeks of consistent training.
“I would train for a month and then be sick for a month. A cold could easily turn into pneumonia.”
That all changed when a trip to Boulder, Colorado, in the summer of 2017, ultimately landed her a place in Julie Dibens’ squad, surrounded by some stellar pros. Together, Dibens and Kyme worked on a training schedule that allowed the energetic Australian to progress her training just enough to keep her healthy. It worked. In 2018 she won every age group race she showed up to, taking age-group wins at 70.3s in Texas, St George, Boulder, and Muncie. A victory at 70.3 Xiamen, in China, at the end of 2017, had already secured her that coveted Kona slot for the following year, which meant her phenomenal 2018 season would fulfill a nearly derailed childhood dream.
After finally ticking that Haiwaiian box, she found herself with a choice she never dreamed she would be making: Should she take her pro card and race another year? The woman who was told she’d never be able to take part in sports again chose “Yes,” and decided to race in all corners of the globe: 70.3 Bariloche in Argentina, 70.3 Vietnam, Ironman Malaysia, and the Patagonman Xtreme Triathlon, on December 1—where she finished second female overall.
“The fact I’ve got to do all of this is really remarkable to me. It could have been so different,” Kyme says. “It’s helped me remember that if you’re dreaming of something, it’s for a reason. If you have a dream, there will likely be obstacles. I hadn’t thought I could do this, and it might have taken me a little longer to achieve my dreams, but I did. I did it.”