Australian Katie Kelly took home the gold medal at the 2017 ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Rotterdam last week. The blueseventy supported athlete competes in the PTVI class which is reversed for athletes with total or partial visual impairment. A guide from the same nationality and gender is mandatory throughout the race and they must ride a tandem during the bike segment. In Rotterdam paratriathletes competed in a sprint-distance race of a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run. The victory kept Katie’s impressive winning streak in tact: She first won the world title in Chicago in 2015, followed by the gold medal in the Rio Paralympic Games last year.

“It was a tough field out there, a lot of those girls raced here [Rotterdam] last year and it was our first time. You know anything can happen in a triathlon race, lucky the conditions were good. But it is always a bit surreal when you finish first, I am very honored to take the World Championships in the Vision Impaired class.”

Katie’s guide since 2015 is Michellie Jones, one of Australia’s most decorated triathletes with an Olympic Silver Medal, an IRONMAN World Championships and two ITU World titles.

"Michellie and I have had the most incredible times together. There's a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scene to ensure that we are ready on race day and to produce the results we do."

Katie was born with moderate hearing loss and has been wearing hearing aids since she was 5 years old. Like most young Australians, sport was a big part of her upbringing, and she was competitive in basketball, netball and squash. In her mid-20’s she was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome (Deaf Blind condition) and ball sports became harder for Katie as she was losing her peripheral vision. She then turned her attention more to swimming then running and eventually triathlon.

Katie set a goal of doing her first IRONMAN in 2013 in Port Macquarie. With the right coaches on her side they steered Katie on the right course, and after 18 months of preparation she was ready, although two days out she realized she left one crucial item at home.

“I remember buying a wetsuit two days before the race, exactly a thing you shouldn’t do – try new products in a race. But it was a blueseventy Reaction wetsuit and it was a dream to swim in.”

With her eyesight deteriorating, Katie contacted Triathlon Australia to find out how she could continue competing with a guide. She was encouraged to take up short course Paratriathlon. It was 2015 and Katie began training under Triathlon Australia's High Performance coach, Dan Atkins, alongside some of Australia’s rising talents including Matt Hauser, Jaz and Kira Hedgeland, Brandon Copeland and paratriathlete Nic Beveridge.

“I’m really proud to be part of this squad, we all push other and Dan just makes it work to have a range of athletes with various abilities. Kudos to Dan and Triathlon Australia for having the vision to integrate ‘able’ body elite triathletes with ‘para’ triathletes. It’s a great model for inclusion and diversity.”

In preparation for the World Championships, Katie spent two weeks training at Triathlon Australia's training base in Vitoria, Spain. It was an incredible experience for Katie. To see firsthand the preparation and focus of Head Coach Jamie Turner's day to day environment and training of top triathletes including Ashleigh Gentle, Charlotte McShane and Ryan Bailie among others such as Renee Tomlin from the USA.

Since taking up Paratriathlon Katie has been racking up the awards. She was awarded the Australian Deaf Sports Athlete of the Year in recognition for her Chicago World Championship win, Triathlon Australia's 2016 Female Triathlete of the Year and the 2016 Paratriathlete of the Year. This year, she received an honorary award on Australia Day for her contribution to triathlon and people with a disability. 

This year Katie launched a new foundation, ‘Sport Access Foundation’, which provides grants for children with an intellectual or physical disability to access sport. Katie describes the launch of the foundation as one of her most proudest moments.

“Imagine if we were all the same. Differences are what makes us the great people we all are. People shouldn’t be frightened of ‘disability.’ Diversity is to be celebrated. The Paralympic movement has changed the way we perceive people with a disability.” 

Katie works with the Australian Paralympic Committee in a senior marketing and athlete liaison role. Follow her journey on InstagramTwitter and Facebook. Learn more about Sport Access Foundation here.

All photos by World Triathlon / Wagner Araujo