On a warm April morning, Katrina Cavaliere is hunched over her bicycle in the most aerodynamic position she can manage as she grinds it out on a Saturday morning time trial. From a mile away, you can see a fire in her eyes burning with relentless determination, strength, and a hint of competitiveness. With every driving force of her legs, she is working to be better and stronger than she was the day before and to be one step closer to the athlete she wants to become.
Athletic hasn’t always been a characteristic Katrina would choose to describe herself. She spent almost a lifetime on the sidelines, spectating, but never participating. “I’ve always been kind of the fat kid in my head,” she admits. “I was not very athletic, even though I wanted to be. I often quit because I felt people were judging me or looking at me.” Katrina’s time was mostly consumed with building a real estate company with her husband and raising three children. It wasn’t until Katrina was in her 40s that she found a sport that would ultimately change her life and catapult her into taking on one of the toughest physical challenges she’s ever endured.
After spending a couple years running with a local club, Katrina stumbled onto the sport of triathlon when a friend suggested they try a local sprint race. From there, she slowly began to include more swimming, biking and running into her life, even taking on a few more shorter distance races on relay teams with friends.
In 2015, after spending a year of supporting her husband, Vince, in his journey to Ironman Canada, Katrina decided she was ready to step out of her comfort zone bigger than she ever had before, and signed on the dotted line for the half Ironman race in Victoria, B.C.
Once she had made the commitment to race, her mindset had to quickly adjust from years of saying, “I can’t,” to “I can.” She knew the road wasn’t going to be easy, but she was also not quite prepared for the workouts her coach would throw her into right from the start. “I remember he would give me a workout and in my mind I was like, are you f**king kidding me, Maurice?” Katrina recalls that in the beginning when she looked at some of the workouts on paper they seemed insurmountable. It took an adjustment and time for her to break through her mental barrier and realize that she could do it, she just needed to believe in the process, her coach and above all else, herself.
In the following two months, Katrina soon adapted to her new training program and started to feel healthy, strong and fit, but more importantly, she started to let go of her insecurities and her fears. “I realized about two months after I started training that I did not go to bed feeling fat, I did not wake up feeling fat, I did not think about it all day long,” she recalls. “I just realized that it’s about strength, and everyone is different.”
Katrina was physically and mentally in a prime place to begin her journey, but it was just a couple short months later when she would be hit with her biggest challenge yet. During an interval training run Katrina suddenly felt a “weird” popping sensation deep in her ankle. At the time though, she didn’t think too much of it and continued running. “I was trying not to be a wimp. I knew everyone was dealing with their own injuries,” she says. But the pain was worsening and swelling started to hinder the movement of her ankle. Stubborn and determined to keep on track, Katrina continued to ignore her injury for the next three to four weeks until her coach finally ordered her off to the doctor. Admittedly, Katrina says she made the mistake of not acknowledging it soon enough. For the next two months, she would bounce around from doctor to doctor trying to determine her prognosis. She would also spend many hours in the pool water running. “It was frustrating because you’re watching everyone improve on their running, and you’re driving to go water run by yourself in the pool,” she says. “I had worked so hard to get where I was, but it could always be worse. You just move forward.”
In the weeks and months ahead, Katrina continued to do just that and forged forward with her training, doing what she could, making the most of it, and coming to an acceptance with her injury. “The ankle was going to be what it was going to be, I did everything I could,” she says. Nothing, not even this injury, were going to stop Katrina from completing her race, even if it meant hobbling through the run.
On June 14, 2015, Katrina walked under the Ironman starting arch and into the cool waters of Elk Lake with her husband by her side; his presence helped put her at ease. “Vince has always believed in me, more than I see in myself sometimes,” she says. In her mind, she knew the work to get there was done, and any insecurities and doubts had to be pushed aside; it was time to put everything to the test.
“Once the gun went off, I was calm. I couldn’t believe how calm I was. I thought, I can do this, I can swim.” Katrina settled into her rhythm and made it back to shore in a time that would position her well for the start of the bike. But it was not long after that when she heard the dreaded “pop” sound from her tire. She had a flat and it would be more than 20 minutes until she was back on course again. “I had practiced changing a tire once before,” she admits. “It was so hard watching everyone else ride by as time ticked on.” But Katrina did what she has done since day one of her journey and forged on, never willing to give up. As she approached the bike dismount line, she recalls being happy to be off her bike and back on her own two feet, but it also meant she was in for 21 kilometres of pounding on her injured ankle.
“By about 11 kilometres my ankle was throbbing,” she recalls. “The swelling had gone up so much that the tape was digging into my foot.” Katrina was forced to a walk. In her mind, she battled with knowing she was losing time, but it was all she could do to keep moving forward, one step at a time. “The last 5K hurt. My ankle wasn’t moving anymore and the swelling continued to get worse,” she says. As Katrina tried to compensate for the pain, other parts of her body felt the shift and become aggravated. She could feel it from her hips to her toes. Still though, Katrina wasn’t stopping for anything. “I wouldn’t stop, unless it broke, even then I would have crawled across the finish line,” she laughs.
With less than one kilometre to go, Katrina mustered everything she had to turn up her cadence for the finish line. This was the moment she had worked so hard for, and in that moment, she was just grateful not to be dragging herself towards the finish. “I remember seeing the red carpet and I saw my friends, and my mom waiting to give me my medal,” she recalls. “And then I looked up and I’m like, oh my god, I’m done.”
Katrina finished her race in a time of 6 hours 56 minutes, and with a smile on her face. “This was me doing something at 48 years-old; it took me a long time to believe in myself,” she says. “But it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still try something different and push yourself.”
Katrina credits the sport of triathlon for pushing her from the sidelines to being a competitor and an athlete. The fire that burns in her eyes during every workout comes from a place of determination and a place of knowing she is stronger both mentally and physically than ever before in her life.
“I knew I had strength, it was just finding it,” she smiles.