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PROfile: Katie Zafares

The newly-married Zafares had a stellar start to the season with a runner-up finish at WTS Abu Dhabi.

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Formerly a steeplechaser and 5K runner at Syracuse University (with a 5K PR of 16:10), the American was recruited by USA Triathlon in 2012 to join its Collegiate Recruitment Program and saw early success, including multiple World Cup wins that nabbed her USAT 2013 Rookie of the Year. Katie Zafares (née Hursey) posted an impressive top-10 finish at last year’s ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton and is prepping, under the guidance of coach Joel Filliol, for a busy season of global ITU racing, with her sights set on the 2016 Rio Games. Her year kicked off with a mid-January wedding to fellow pro triathlete Tommy Zaferes in Santa Cruz, Calif. Last weekend she finished in the runner-up spot to Gwen Jorgensen at the WTS opener in Abu Dhabi.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2015 ITU WTS Abu Dhabi – Women’s Race

– Triathlon is all so new to me that I still see most of the challenges I meet as learning experiences. This past season was difficult in that I had the first real injury of my athletic career. So it showed me that I wasn’t quite as invincible as I originally believed myself to be. However, like all challenges I’ve been faced with, in the end I wouldn’t trade the hardships because they gave me a lot of insight into what’s important to me and how to deal with things like that in the future.

– I did my first triathlon with my dad and it was fun but super hard. I’m not the type who likes to do a lot of research before I start something. I’d rather just go do it, and learn from there. So that’s pretty much how I went about triathlons. At the time I didn’t think at all about going into triathlon as a career. It was just something I wanted to do with my dad.

– Tommy and I were introduced in the racing scene. We met at the Tiszaujvaros ITU World Cup in 2013 after the race. It was really evident to me that Tommy was really special. I had actually been engaged to someone else at the time, but decided to break off my engagement. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a future with Tommy; I just knew after meeting him that I wanted to have that feeling if not with him then with someone else. So ultimately I broke off my engagement the week I returned home and was nervous to tell Tommy. I didn’t want him thinking that I was this crazy girl who broke off her engagement after meeting some guy one time. Thankfully he didn’t think I was too crazy.

– My first goal is to make the Olympic team and go to Rio. Then once I’m there, just like many athletes, my goal is to come back with a gold medal.

– I have learned so much from my peers. Some of the most important lessons have been about focusing on the process rather than the outcome. The other things that Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah Haskins have taught me is that everyone has good and bad days. And it’s important to be able to quickly learn and move on from the bad days.

– I love going to a new place and having the job of exploring through all three disciplines. It’s been fun getting to know the athletes from different countries. Last year I was just trying to figure out triathlon and didn’t really take the time to meet all the people I was racing against. But this year I had a lot more fun just taking everything in, enjoying the experience and not taking anything too seriously.

– A lot of people find it surprising that I want to adopt a little girl from Ethiopia in the future.

– With doing so much more outside of running it has become more important to really make sure that I take my easy runs easy. Besides that, I’m actually surprised by how little has changed from when I was training as a runner to now as a triathlete.

– I’m most proud of my performance at Edmonton. After some struggling [in 2014] I really surprised myself by getting ninth. It also got me really excited because I feel like I was functioning at like 75 percent at that point. So I can’t wait until I get my run back and see what I can do.

RELATED – One To Watch: USA’s Katie Hursey

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