Exmouth's Katrina Rye - an athlete at the very top of her sport

PUBLISHED: 09:34 11 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:34 11 July 2019

Exmouth's Katrina Rye crosses the finish line in Romania. Picture ETU MEDIA

Exmouth's Katrina Rye crosses the finish line in Romania. Picture ETU MEDIA

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Exmouth's Katrina Rye, representing Great Britain, won the European Triathlon Championships (Middle Distance) in Romania last weekend, and now is targeting glory at the World Championships being held in France in September, writes Steve Birley.

Katrina Rye with bike ahead of another triathlon appearance. Pictuer KATRINA RYEKatrina Rye with bike ahead of another triathlon appearance. Pictuer KATRINA RYE

So, who is Katrina Rye and how has she made her way to the pinnacle of her sport? Who better than Kat herself to tell us!

She says: "I'm Kat, a physiotherapist by profession and, after three successive Middle Distance (Ironman 70.3) outright wins (Calgary, Rutland and Gran Canaria) have qualified to race as an elite triathlete!

My first race as a professional was in early June of this year when I took part in the Stafford Ironman 70.3 and, of course, this past weekend I have been in action in Finland."

She continued: "I grew up surrounded by sport and thus developed an interest in the human body and health generally.

Katrina Rye receives the trophy after winning the Army Triathlon Championships. Picture KATRINA RYEKatrina Rye receives the trophy after winning the Army Triathlon Championships. Picture KATRINA RYE

"I was advised to try a work experience week with a physiotherapist working in MSK rehabilitation and genuinely just fell in love straight away.

"I decided that week I would be applying to university to study physiotherapy and directly alongside that I wanted to join the British Army as a physiotherapist as I believed this was where the fittest and most determined patients were.

"Alongside my degree at Cardiff University (currently the leading university for physiotherapy), I played hockey for the university team and joined the University Officers' Training Corps (UOTC).

"At that stage, triathlon wasn't on the cards - I didn't have a car and the pool was a few miles out of town!

Katrina Rye completes the swimming element of a triathlon. Picture KATRINA RYEKatrina Rye completes the swimming element of a triathlon. Picture KATRINA RYE

"My main sports during my schooldays were hockey, swimming and running. I played at all levels for our local hockey club in Exmouth - a top team regionally in those days - making the ladies' 1st XI at 15 years of age.

"We had a superb school hockey team in my year and were runners-up in the England Schools final.

"Sports like hockey appealed to my need for fun much more as a kid than the monotony of lane swimming.

"There was so much camaraderie in a hockey team and as a team member you felt part of something bigger than just that training session or that match because you were working for the team and not just yourself.

Katrina Rye crossed the finishing line at the 2019 Staffordshire Iron Man meeting. Picture KATRINA RYEKatrina Rye crossed the finishing line at the 2019 Staffordshire Iron Man meeting. Picture KATRINA RYE

"We have cross-country runners in the family going back generations and I got into that winning several Devon schools titles, SW England champion one year and ran in the England Schools Cross-Country most years [my best place finish was 10th].

"We were lucky enough to have a popular local swimming club and a decent 25m pool in Exmouth. I trained 2-3 times a week from age 11 through to 17.

"We never took ourselves too seriously and some of my best swimming memories are just mucking around at the end of the lane mid swim set.

"Which is likely why my times never quite reached county team standard; that and because I didn't want to get up at 5am everyday as a teenager!"

Katrina Rye in action during the bike element of a triathlon. Picture KATRINA RYEKatrina Rye in action during the bike element of a triathlon. Picture KATRINA RYE

The next stage of Katrina's life was joining the military. She says: "After finishing university and escaping for a ski season I commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps as a physiotherapist with my first job as a lifetime dream at the Defence Military Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, in Surrey.

"Headley Court has a world reputation for military rehabilitation excellence and helping injured soldiers get back to fighting fitness, if humanly possible.

"This was an excellent job, gaining experience in the full range of disciplines, working alongside some brilliant people with motivated patients.

"Important to this story is that there was a swimming pool onsite, a few Wattbikes in the gym and superb tracks and trails from the centre's front gate, into the Surrey Hills - perfect for exploring!

"I decided to start swimming again and at this point a big swim was 20mins in the morning before breakfast structured as a random assortment of 50-100m efforts.

"That first year I entered a couple of local sprint triathlons and raced for the army - all on my trusty 1994 third-hand road bike.

"Training was generally structured as do-what-I-feel-like-on-the-day decisions but, importantly, it was enjoyable and inclusive. Turning up to local triathlons as a novice everyone was so friendly and welcoming, offering advice freely (useful or not, it didn't matter) and everyone encouraged everyone. This encouragement and support are what seems to hold the triathlon community together. When you are constantly pushing the physiological limits of your body and mind you need this encouragement.

It is not necessarily during a race when you are pushing at your hardest but often it is most needed when you are unable to train for the goals you have set yourself. I have had a few injuries over the last few years which have taken me out of training, from just one training session up to three months with anti-inflammatory medication and complete rest.

The strife of these periods is the hardest aspect of the sport, both physiologically and mentally.

"You may not see or believe it, but your body is working at its hardest to heal and yet your mind is going crazy (if you let it).

"I try not to look back on missed targets as anything other than decent preparation for the next goal. The 'lows' in any sport are needed to ensure the 'highs' are high!"

And so, to the triathlon and Kate says: "In four years in triathlon I have transitioned from competing at local AG qualifiers to the top end of Age Group European and World Champs, I've become Army Champion (sprint, standard, middle distance) and gained a National Middle Distance Champion title in 2018 with a IM 70.3 overall win in Calgary (while deployed for British Army training to Canada for four months) in the mix as well.

"This Easter I competed at Challenge Gran Canaria, and as well as being the fastest amateur, I beat all the pros bar one (Emma Pallant) on time.

"This secured an instant Elite/Professional licence with British Triathlon (only 1.8 per cent down on the Pro winner's time).

"Having achieved my 2019 season goal of 'turning pro' in my first race, I have spent a few weeks re-aligning my next goals. I want to wear a GB Elite Vest and gain a professional podium this year.

"Some might say it's all being 'a bit ambitious' given this is my first pro season, but we'll see! With the support of the British Army, rehab company Meglio and my brilliant family it is possible.

"An underlying drive to be the best I can be as an athlete is to learn as a physiotherapist.

"The experience I have gained from working with other athletes and my personal experience allows me to have an expansive breadth of understanding and empathy for any athlete. I have been advised over and over again that the key to being a good physio is to be able to relate and listen to your patient and to inspire them. In the army we call it leading from the front."

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