038 – Katie Kelly – My Journey to the Paralympics

From Weekend Warrior to World Champion

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We are only days away from the Rio Paralympics and our guest in this episode will be there.

And what an incredible story she will take with her.

After experiencing degenerative hearing loss from a young age, Katie Kelly learned in her 20s that she was also going blind. A few months before her 40th birthday, she was declared legally blind.

Katie’s response – get on the phone to Triathlon Australia to and learn about paratriathlon eligibility.

That phone call sparked a remarkable journey – from Weekend Warrior to competing on the world stage, winning events and becoming a world champion.

And now Katie is on her way to compete in the pinnacle of her sport – but not before she dropped in to the Team Guru Podcast to tell us all about it.

Katie’s story is probably the most uplifting I’ve ever heard – and she is certainly the most positive person I have ever met.



Lessons Learned

Here’s what I took from the episode:

The Definition of Positive

January 2015 Katie was declared legally blind.

The very next day she called Triathlon Australia to find out what she had to do to qualify as a para-triathlete.

‘I think we’re all capable of that kind of response. For me it just seemed like the logical thing to do.’

When I set goals I always make sure that when one ends, there’s another one on the horizon.

Each step of this whole journey…I just keep pinching myself.

My friends wanted to make up a T-shirt – ‘I’m now blind enough to be an elite athlete’


Incredible Journey

In a period of 18 months Katie has gone from being a ‘Weekend Warrior’ – someone who trains in their spare time and competes on the weekend – to living the life of a full-time athlete. Ice baths, recovery sessions…

‘In some ways it feels a bit indulgent. It is a bubble and a bit surreal’.

It makes Katie think of the 18 or 19 year old who move straight from school into that protected, pampered life-style. If that’s all they know, it gives them an odd view of the world and they develop unrealistic expectations

As a mature age athlete she has a much better perspective and real appreciation for the people around her



Before she moved into the world of paratriathlon, Katie was more an endurance athlete – she likes half marathons and half ironman distance.

But the para-triathlon is sprint distance – 750m swim, 20k ride, 5k run. So her training has shifted in terms of intensity and speed work


Overcoming Obstacles

The para-triathlon has enabled Katie to compete more at her best – because she had to be so cautious in the ride. She just sat at the back of the pack for safety.

Similarly in the swim, she had trouble with direction, often swimming much further than the course dictated.

But now, with the aid of a guide she is able to compete at a level more closer to her ability.

In preparation for the games Katie trains 2 or 3 times a day. And in between each session is a full-time regime of recovery.

‘I don’t take any shortcuts. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me’



Paratriathletes compete with a guide.

Athletes like Katie are literally tethered to their guide athlete for the swim, they ride on a tandem bike and are again tethered for the run

Katie has struck triathlon gold with her guide – Michellie Jones: Olympic silver medalist; two-time International Triathlon Union (ITU) world champion; ironman world champ; the first Australian woman to win the Hawaiian Ironman and ITU hall of fame

Katie Kelly - Australian Paratriathlete - shares her remarkable story with the Team Guru Podcast

Team Dynamics

Michellie is very organised and assertive. While Katie is much more laid back and ‘a plodder’ when getting things organised. They have tested each other’s patience on occasions. It has been a wonderful experience for both athletes as they use their self-awareness and learn to work effectively together

Katie has learned a lot from her time training with Michellie.

‘You realise why she has had the success she has had. Her attention to details is meticulous’. And she knows how to bring it all to a race. She just takes all the pressure off.

‘We’ve earned our right to be here’

Katie’s is driven by the fear fear that Michellie would ever think that she is not putting in her full effort



Katie does allow herself to think forward to the race itself.

‘It’s hard not to’.

After having spent so much of her time focussing on one single race, the Paralympic Triathlon on 11 September 2016, Katie is very well aware of the massive downer that so many athletes experience once the event has come and gone.

The AIS have a Personal Excellence Team that work with athletes to ensure that athletes have balance in their lives, that they are thinking about what they are doing after the games


Three Questions

  1. The single achievement you are most proud of?

‘Probably the World Champs. That was pretty exceptional’

2. The one thing you know that you wish everyone else knew?

‘If get a lot out of meditation and I think that if people took time out of their busy lives and found a bit of stillness and silence it would be a good thing in this very busy and cluttered world’

3. One thing you are working on right now

‘The swim. I’ve never been technically a good swimmer’


Katie Kelly - Australian Paratriathlete - shares her remarkable story with the Team Guru Podcast

Achievements (so far)

March 2015 – 1st place ITU World Paratriathlon held at the Sunshine Coast, Queensland (her first ITU race)

(Kelly completed a 750 m swim, 20 km bike ride and a 5 km run to beat her Japanese rival, Atsuko Yamada with a world-class time of 1:15:26)

March 2015 – 1st place National Paratriathlon Championships in Redcliffe on with a time of 1:16:59.

(These titles led Kelly to be ranked number 13 in the world)

May 2015 – 1st place ITU race in Yokohama

July 2015 – 1st place Iseo, Italy

(Moved into into the top ten in world rankings)

September 2015 –  1st place World Championship Final in Chicago

August 2016 – Selected in Australian Rio Paralympics team



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