Following in the footsteps of Olympian Gwen Jorgensen, 24-year-old American Katie Hursey has had a quick rise in ITU racing through USA Triathlon’s Collegiate Recruitment program. She earned the honor of 2013 Rookie of the Year for her first crack at ITU racing after college, and now just starting her second season of professional racing, she’s won three of five ITU World Cups she’s started in, including a recent win in New Plymouth, New Zealand, on March 23. She’ll compete at the WTS season opener in Auckland, New Zealand on April 6 (5:10 p.m. [PST] April 5).
Hursey grew up in Hampstead, Md., and did her first triathlon in high school with her dad. She had similar chops to Jorgensen when she was contacted by USAT’s Barb Lindquist to join the collegiate recruitment program—she was a steeplechaser and 5K runner at Syracuse University (with a 5K PR of 16:10), and swam until her sophomore year in high school, with minimal cycling experience. “Cycling was something I was really afraid of—I’m not sure why, but where I lived there were no bike lanes and roads are dangerous to ride on,” Hursey says. “I figured I wouldn’t like it, but it’s one of my favorites now and I think I progressed pretty quickly.”
She got her pro card through non-drafting races, and only just did her first draft-legal race in 2013. “I went into Clermont last year and I would get rubber-banded off of every turn,” Hursey says. “I’d ride with Alicia Kaye and Sara McLarty just hanging on for dear life.”
She’s been working with coach Melissa Mantak both at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center and now under the Scottsdale Project in Arizona. “Colorado Springs is really nice because there are so many resources and everything is right there,” she says. “But you can’t beat the Arizona weather, and there are trails in my backyard so I don’t run on hard surfaces at all. You can go hilly, you can go flat. The main thing is having the environment and the resources. We’re living in a house now and make our own food, which is kind of nice to feel like a real person.”
One of Hursey’s favorite workouts, which has undoubtedly helped her drafting and pack riding skills, is the local Underground Crit—a nighttime crit-style weekly race series with about 50 riders in a local neighborhood.
She’s turned to Jorgensen for some advice on the transition from swim-runner to triathlete. “Last year she was really helpful with getting started. My third race was a WTS race [San Diego] which was a pretty big jump,” Hursey says. “She was really comforting and reminded me that it’s more about the process than it is about the outcome, and to make sure I had fun. I like how triathlon is different—there are so many processes in a race and so many opportunities to make up for a mistake.”
Although her focus has shifted from running to tri, Hursey actually said she feels like she’s running as fast if not faster than she was in college, along with getting stronger in each sport. “I feel like I’ve completed the transformation into an actual triathlete,” she says. “I don’t know what my strength is anymore.”
Hursey’s goals for 2014 and beyond: “I want to keep going like I am right now. The World Cup level has been really good, but I want to excel at the WTS level. I want to be top 10, top five in most of my races.” After Auckland she heads to Cape Town, then Yokohoma and Chicago, with a schedule that has her racing on six out of the seven continents this year.
Although she’s mostly focused on her learning curve as a relative newbie, Rio 2016 is certainly not off her radar. “I try not to completely focus on it because I like looking more closely, but with the Olympic points starting it’s something I have to keep in mind,” Hursey says. “It’s definitely on the horizon.”
To learn more about Hursey visit www.katiehursey.com and follow her on Twitter @KmHursey.