Katrina Cavaliere

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.
164638_10200298600280019_1721397358_n 10269654_10152440000558209_3227608499347704001_nIn 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.”
10320469_10205017316605765_2534546721129152669_nKatrina 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.
11062336_10205555768706731_8400553955955115463_n “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.
11425861_10205565653833853_4934052702926348750_n “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.
11183466_10205565653313840_9110143333953860346_nWith 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.”
11407187_10205555793627354_8384677515528082510_n 11391531_10205565654233863_8406264640706543457_n 11400960_10205565656473919_6912255779107351125_n 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.”
11232232_10205565654673874_8307179600904249070_n 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.


Vince Cavaliere

It’s an early Saturday morning in mid-March, and Vince Cavaliere is halfway through a suffer grinder fest spin session. He’s hunched over an indoor trainer, pushing a big gear with a grimace on his face, pain in his eyes, and sweat dripping from his nose. His training partners, working right alongside him, see his relentless determination and shout out words of encouragement. His wife, seated on the bike next to him, calls out his increasing wattage numbers, and this only makes him work harder. You can see him feeding off the energy around him.
Standing at 6’1” with a looming athletic frame, dark Italian skin, and deliberately coiffed flowing locks, Vince carries a presence. He’s loud, outspoken, competitive, driven, and a man of business. He knows what he wants, and he’s calculated in his dreams. As an entrepreneur of a real estate company, Vince has built something from nothing, and he is no stranger to dedication, perseverance and hard work. Dreaming big and always searching for the next best thing is in his DNA.

“I’ve always been goal driven, I’ve always been motivated to be something – and I’m still wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up,” he admits. “My brother says that I’m never satisfied, and even when I get to where I’m going, it’s like, really is that it?”
It was perhaps this mindset that propelled Vince from casual jogging with the run club to the world of eating, sleeping and breathing the sport of long distance triathlon, and ultimately, chasing the dream of racing at Ironman. But, outside of who Vince is as a person, are the people he trains with day and day out – the people he affectionately calls his, “tribe.” They are there for every suffer grinder fest spin session, every pain cave tempo run, every back breaking 200 kilometre enduro ride. They are the ones calling out the encouragement and egging him on to push himself beyond his own limitations.

Since his training journey began, Vince says that finding his “tribe” and the camaraderie of the sport was something he least expected. While, swimming, biking and running are truly individual sports, Vince says he discovered the team in triathlon.
“I never expected to be as connected to people,” he admits. “This is as much an individual sport as you can find. I have to swim by myself, nobody pulls me, nobody pushes me, I have to jump on my bike, nobody pulls me, nobody pushes me, and then I have to run, and nobody pushes me and nobody pulls me. But at the end of the day, the tribe are indirectly pushing me and pulling me.”
Vince’s training partners ultimately became a source of inspiration for him, and played an integral role in helping him to overcome  one of his biggest hurdles, running.
“Running is my worst discipline,” he admits. “It’s the one I work the hardest at, it’s the one that intimidates me the most, and at the end of the day, it’s the one I love the most.”
Reflecting back on his first year of training, Vince says he ran scared. Notably, he remembers his first half marathon in Vegas. He crossed the finish line in just over three hours, and for the next three days, he says, he sat in his hotel room with ice packs on his shins to dull the pain. “It was ridiculous,” he says.
Once Vince made the determination in his own mind to improve on his run times, he looked to his tribe for support, in particular, his training partner Kate, who was a driving factor in pushing Vince outside his own comfort zone.

“She is one amazing runner,” he laughs. “And just watching her and realizing she took an hour off her Ironman time, from 2014 to 2015, and won and qualified for Kona. If I can take an hour off my time, that is unbelievable, and I will have won in my mind.”
After spending an entire season chasing after Kate during training sessions, Vince went from running a three hour half marathon, to a 3.5 hour full marathon. While Vince admits the support from his training partners played an integral role in his physical running transformation, he had to rely on himself to overcome the mental hurdle of running, and says, he has yet to find his own breaking point.
“The hardest part is probably understanding, truly, where your limitations are as a human being, and at what point will you truly break. I haven’t found that yet,” he says.
Outside of Vince’s accomplishments as an athlete, and overcoming his own personal hurdles in the sport, Vince says his greatest fulfillment throughout his Ironman journey has been the opportunity to train with his wife, Katrina.

“She’s super talented in her own right, she’s super strong, mentally one of the toughest people I know, and I draw from that,” he smiles.
As his Saturday morning spin session wraps, and he wipes the final droplet of sweat from his nose, you see a man who is driven by his passions, his fear of failure and the desire to be the best he can be, not only for himself, but for others around him.  “I think I’m a true domestique in many ways,” he admits. “I like to see other people do well around me, and in order for people to do well around me, I have to be doing really, really well. I have to lead by example.”

Swimming with the fishes in the deep blue sea

The ocean air breezed gently across my skin and I soaked in the radiance of the warm sun as Tracy and I walked along the rock wall of Alli’i Drive. On this morning, as I glanced out along the horizon, the ocean appeared incredibly vast and exceptionally grand. It was like a serene, turquoise mass of rippling water gently swaying in tune to the calm morning winds. I closed by eyes tightly as I embraced the salty air and the feeling of freedom and revitalization. I am a water baby, born to love the water, and a west coast girl, born to love the ocean. The crashing sound of waves, the rush of the tides moving over tiny pebbles, the bright colours of starfish, jellyfish and shells, the smells of changing tides, and the feeling of wet, soft sand between your toes, reminds me of a childhood of memories frolicking along shorelines.

As we passed the end of the rock wall we reached the top of the stairs to the small sandy beach, where we began to remove our shoes and put on our goggles and caps. Despite the warmth in the air, my teeth began to incessantly chatter, a sign of my body’s first reaction to nervousness. Although I feel like my soul is innately connected to the ocean, I prefer to feel that connection from a distance. For as deeply as I love it, I am also deeply afraid of it, particularly what lies beneath it – fish, octopi, crevasses, caves, sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, turtles, especially whales and anything that moves, sits still, barely lives or even floats.  In fact, when I first started triathlons I swore I would never do an open ocean water swim, unless I qualified for Kona.  Well I lied to myself, because here I was about to swim 1.2 miles into the open ocean where I would be an insignificant dot amongst all the things that moved and floated, including sharks, stingrays, turtles and whatever else lurked in the bay that morning.
As I hobbled down the rocky steps to the wet, sandy beach, I found a spot to sit where I could pull on my “legs.” Before I left, my coach gave me the bottom half of of his wetsuit, cut into two single legs. It would help keep my injured knee stable and afloat so I wouldn’t need to kick. They would also provide some slight flotation, which was reassuring at the time. Given there were no lane ropes or deck to grab onto, it was nice to know my legs were a little bit more floaty than usual. Although, it did briefly enter my mind that from the view below, I now slightly resembled a seal, which was prime bait for large, carnivorous sea creatures. Looking back on it now though, I should have been more concerned about walking around with the the not-so-fashionable look of cut off wet suit legs over my tri shorts, which as I recalled was how my coach told me not to wear them.

Looking out over the horizon of the Kailua-Kona bay I took one deep breath and plunged myself into a hesitant head-first dive forward and just started swimming.

For the first 150 metres, the water was amazingly clear, and we were surrounded by vibrant colours of darting tropical fish and a bursting array of coral. Every few metres I would I lose  sight of where I was going as I was more enthralled with the happenings beneath me. Here in the bay, I felt safe and relaxed. The water was deep enough for swimming, but shallow enough to prevent any large unwanted sea creatures from disrupting the peace. The waves gently rocked me back and forth as the tide pulled in, then out, but it didn’t bother me; I just kind of rolled with it.
As we moved past the 150 metre swim marker, the coral slowly disappeared into white sand and the depths grew deeper and deeper, and suddenly I felt much more vulnerable and my mind started to run wild. I kept telling myself to calm down, relax, be one with the water, but I couldn’t keep the word “shark” out of my head and my eyes darted at every shadow. With every fourth stroke I would pop my head up slightly to navigate my way through the waters and every time I would realize just how exposed we were out in the middle of the open ocean. The horizon was dotted with various boats, buoys, a titanic sized cruise ship and occasionally other swimmers. I couldn’t decide in that moment whether it was a breathtaking sight or simply terrifying. So, I shut out the dark fears of large looking sea creatures and tried to focus on the small, harmless fish. With just metres to go before hitting the marker, a large haunting looking shape swept over the ocean floor. It was a Manta Ray, calmly floating along. This creature wasn’t terrifying, in fact, it was quite peaceful.
As I continued on and bobbed my head up to sight I saw Tracy pull up; we had hit the 1.2 mile marker. The two of us floated there in the middle of the open ocean, just two insignificant dots, surrounded by a mysterious underwater world, and exchanging high-fives as we celebrated our triumph. We turned to head back, and a local swimmer popped up beside us. “Beautiful morning for swim,” she exclaimed in a calm almost namaste-like greeting. Tracy and I smiled at each other. For the first time, I was completely  relaxed and the dark thoughts of terror in the great, deep sea were gone. The journey back was much more comfortable, and my eyes no longer darted in all directions. I was calm, yet straddling the edge between fight or flight. I was guarded, yet open.
Once back on shore, we stumbled along the soft sand like drunken sailors touching land for the first time and laughed in spite of ourselves. I looked back over the horizon to see the marker off in the distance and smiled. I will forever be grateful for my first open ocean water swim, yet I don’t know if it’s something I am intent on repeating anytime too soon. I will always respect the ocean and what lies beneath it, and I don’t think I’ll truly ever lose that fear, but for now I am just happy to have survived and happy to have experienced the beauties of the great blue Pacific.

*A couple days later there was a shark attack on one of the nearby beaches and a Grey Whale sighting just off the marker in the bay. I counted my lucky stars for the peaceful adventure we experienced, and didn’t swim much further that the buoy line for the rest of the week.

Race day: Fast and furious

The air outside was chilly, the sides of the road were still covered with remnants of hard compact snow and the lakes were frigid enough to freeze you to the core, yet on a winter February day in Canada, it was race day.
With four teammates on a relay team we had to swim 300 metres around four large buoys in the pool, spin for 6.6K, run one mile on the indoor track, tag your partner and repeat. The course was short, but it was fast and the competition was unexpectedly fierce.  In the hours leading up to the race that morning, many of us had already put in a full shift of training. We thought the race would be more about the fun and silly costumes than actually racing each other, but once that horn blasted, it was on.

The mass of swimmers churned up the pool like a surging motor boat kicking up a wave of white capped water. The draft seemed to propel everyone at an even speed cornering around the first buoy and then the second. Some bodies headed towards collision while others practically swam over each other. As they rounded the third buoy the lead swimmers quickly torpedoed away from the pack and the slower ones began to lose the momentum of drafting off the toes in front of them. Our first relay team member was surging out in front at a comfortable and incredibly quick pace. She seemed to almost skim across the water as she lapped the other swimmers with a calm, yet powerful stroke. As she drove towards the final stretch we all ran to the end of the deck and yelled with enthusiasm as we chased her out the door and into the gym. Like giddy kids with huge grins on our faces and endless laughter we cheered her on with each lightning fast rotation of the crank. The distance was short, but it was full steam ahead.
In just over 10 minutes, the kilometres ticked down to final decimal point, and with a somewhat clumsily hop, she jumped off the bike and bolted towards the track with the second and third place team closing in quickly behind her. Rounding the first lap, we showered on the encouragement and she powered by with a huge grin on her face. Never have I seen someone working so hard and having so much fun all at the same time.
As she rounded the last corner of the lap, our second teammate was tagged and we all ran behind him as he took off towards the pool and leaped into the water. Again, our enthusiasm followed our teammate around each lap of the pool, cheering for him to go faster. Then it was back in the gym, onto the bike, then onto the track, before it was my turn.
I was having so much fun cheering on my teammates, and caught up in the excitement, I almost forgot I would have to participate. Suddenly I felt a flurry of nerves rise into my throat and a rush of adrenaline creep into my fingertips. But without much more time to think about it, my teammate flew up to me for the tag and like the madness of the race I was off.
I surged through the water, feeling like a savage blood thirsty shark, cranking my way around the buoys and fuelled by adrenaline. But the fuel slowly began to taper on the second lap and my arms started to feel a bit heavier, my breathing intensified and I was forced to slow down or risk drowning myself. It caught me off guard. I swim these distances for warm up and generally at a much faster pace, but with the morning workout behind me, I wasn’t prepared for full bore. Life seemed to move in slow motion.
As I passed the final buoy for the final time, I saw the wall closing in and quickly tried to determine how I would get out of the water.  Even with the deck at water level, I feared my arms wouldn’t be able to hoist me out. Perhaps I could launch myself like a beached whale and maybe roll towards the door, but I was narrowing in on my window for making a decision so without much more thought I simply planted my two hands down and miraculously pushed myself out and onto my feet. There was certainly room for error but I managed to make it happen. Next it was off to the gym where I threw on my shoes with exasperated heavy breathing before dashing over to the spin bike and letting my legs fly, almost as if they would pop out of my hip sockets.

 It was just go, go, go – heart pounding, lungs heaving, everything moving at a million miles a second. Then it was, 6.4, 6.5, 6.6, slow the pedals just enough to jump off without tumbling over and drunkenly wobble onto the track. Just as I did with the swim I bolted away with adrenaline pushing me to go faster, but this time the lead settled in my legs and I sighed desperately wondering if I could make it eight times around this short track.
With each lap, I could hear my friends cheering me on and cow bell banging in the background. Their energy inspired me to briefly kick it up a notch before slowing down a little and then faster and then slower. The voices in my head then started to chime in, “do not stop, do not slow down, do not puke.” Finally I hit the final lap and the only surge of energy I had left was inspired by the fact the pain was almost over. With my partner in sight, I reached as far as I could, as if to not take any more steps than necessary, passed along the tag and proceeded to bend over my knees to catch my breath before running to cheer him on.
For one final time, we would run around like happy kids, cheering with excitement on the pool deck, then the spin bike and the track before he hit the final lap. As he narrowed in on the last 50 metres, sprinting with an energy I didn’t think was possible, we all tried to keep up and join him in crossing the line as a team and in third place.
This was one of those races where all the fears and nerves of a typical race day are replaced by wide grins and laughter. Where race kits involve purple wigs, tutus and stick-on moustaches, and the spirit and camaraderie of our sport shines brightly. Training for Ironman certainly has its days of blisters, blood, aches, pains, sweat, and tears, but for every one of those, there are a few more like this one – fun, happy, and invigorating.

Today’s record is tomorrow’s motivation

My heart starts to pound a little harder, I feel a shake in my hands and suddenly the nerves have me hopping out of the pool running for a pee. It feels like the beginning of a race, but really it’s just another one of my not-so favourite workouts, the 800m time trial swim. As I hop back in the pool and find more reasons to put off the task, my swim partner and I finally agree that once the green hand on the giant clock hits the top, we go. During the quiet of the public afternoon swim on a Saturday we are afforded the luxury to split the lane and just like that I have an opponent; someone to chase.
As we count down to the final second, we charge forward moving the water like two hungry sharks. Out of the corner of my eye, I keep Tracy in my sights the whole way, and for the first 200 metres we are almost side by side. With each fierce kick off the wall I just keep telling myself to not let her go and my arms start to reach even further, stretching for as much pull as my shoulders will allow. I’ve already lost sight of the clock and my focus is narrowed in on closing gap between us. On some laps she pulls further ahead and on others I push closer. I loathe the times when I sense her picking up speed, but love the chase. I can start to hear involuntary gasps and gulps as I desperately turn up my kick and feel the burn in my legs and arms. There are even some moments I feel as if I’ll just pass out mid-stroke, but I’m so transfixed on chasing her down that I don’t even care. Finally, beneath the water I see her touch the wall, her legs sink down into the standing position, and then her voice echoes into the water yelling at me to push the last 10 metres. As I reach for the wall and come to a stop I feel the heat radiate off my face and my heart pounding like a drum inside my chest. Almost in unison as I look at my watch Tracy goes in for the high five with exclaims of, “that was awesome.” I crushed my previous time by one minute. The tiredness in my body is quickly replaced a burst of happiness and energy – I call it my Disneyland happy. The kind of happy where I might cry, I can’t stop laughing and my smile spreads so wide you almost lose my eyes. This is what training is all about. For almost eights months of the year, six days a week, twice a day, I swim, bike and run. I log hundreds of hours and thousands of miles in the snow, sleet, heat, rain and ice. It’s a long, tough road, and most workouts are not sunshine, rainbows and Disneyland moments, but when they do happen they feel pretty damn amazing. I’ve made the mistake in the past of holding onto my failures and forgetting to enjoy the ride. This past weekend was a reminder that this journey can be incredible and is meant to be incredible. Here’s to holding onto the good feeling for as long as possible, or until the next suffer grinder fest kicks me in the ass and coach wipes this dumb smile off my face.