AN ONGOING LOVE OF TRIATHLON Clearly taking time away to focus on family did not diminish her talent or drive.
TRIATHLON COACH BARRIE Shepley recognized great talent when he saw teenager Kirstie Otto (now Kirstie Kniaziew) in her first triathlon. Their meeting sparked years of hard work and success as a junior, elite, age-grouper and master triathlete. Still going strong, she is propelled by a fierce determination to do her best and a genuine love of the sport.
Kniaziew credits several teachers for getting her to that first triathlon and, soon after, Shepley became a significant influence. “It was Barrie Shepley and his never- ending enthusiasm that got me connected with the sport,” she explains. Her brother Stefan began triathlons too and they trained together in St. Catharines, Ont.
Shepley first suggested Kniaziew might qualify for an upcoming world championship. “Although I did not qualify, it was the opportunity that I began to focus on,” she remembers, “and, a year later, under Barrie’s guidance, I made my first Canadian national team at the age of 17 and competed at the world championships in Australia and from there I was hooked!”
Kirstie won bronze in Australia and went on to become a three- time Canadian junior champion. Not much later came a race that really stands out for her, the 1995 Pan Am Games in Argentina, where she took home the individual silver medal and a team gold medal for the Olympic distance race.
In just a few years, this young woman had established herself as a phenomenal triathlete and she wasn’t about to slow down.
Kniaziew started racing professionally for summer work during high school. “With success locally, I was fortunate that my parents could fund my start on the ITU ( International Triathlon Union) series,” she explains. “From there I earned a spot on the circuit for a couple of seasons, which involved a lot of time away from home.”
In 1995, she placed in the top 10 in the ITU series and then continued to achieve impressive rankings. When she missed out on qualifying for the Canadian Olympic Team in 2000, she decided to move up to the Ironman distance, more as an age grouper, as it suited her newly married lifestyle better.
You could say that triathlon played a role in her marriage. She met Duffy Kniaziew at a Kids of Steel race when they were teenagers. Part of a well-known triathlon family, more than a few of his relatives have filled the national team roster over the years.
“The Kniaziew family have been the perfect fit for me,” she says. “Triathlon and healthy lifestyle are an important part for all of us and my husband Duffy has obviously been the backbone to all my years of training and racing of which I’m very thankful.”
Between 2001 and 2003, Kirstie raced in three fulldistance races; twice at the world championship in Kona and once in Wisconsin. But the most memorable Ironman was her fourth, in Coeur d’alene, Idaho. There, in 2005, she not only finished as the first woman overall, but also completed the gruelling race under 10 hours.
Following this amazing achievement, she and Duffy began their family and she put triathlons aside for awhile. She kept up her love of running and, by 2013, she was back on the triathlon race course again.
Kniaziew is now coached by longtime friend and training partner, James Loaring. Of her strengths, Loaring recalls she would fiercely hold him off during swim sessions in the 1990s and he sees that incredible determination still as she gives her all to prevent competitors from passing her.
Leading up to Chicago’s 2015 world championship, Loaring says Kniaziew trained only about eight hours a week to win gold in the women’s 40 to 44 sprint. In 2016, she took gold yet again at the world championship, this time over the Olympic distance in Cozumel. Clearly taking time away to focus on family did not diminish her talent or drive.
Anyone meeting Kniaziew for the first time would see a laid back and humble woman, says Loaring. “But when the gun goes off,” he chuckles, “she’s a fierce competitor who knows how to put her best foot forward. She is a great inspiration because of her talent and the balance she maintains with triathlon, work and family.”
Not surprisingly, Knieziew’s children have an active interest in sports. “There is no doubt that our young children are heavily influenced by my continued training and dedication to the sport,” she says, “as well as the healthy lifestyle of the entire Kniaziew family.”
Athletes often seek help for race- day nutrition in the days or weeks before their big event. While it’s never too late to fine tune and make adjustments, nailing your race- day nutrition is much more likely if you get a head start during the off- season. So, if you have started planning your races for the coming season, take a moment to also plan how nutrition will help you hit your targets and PBS.
Before you make any major changes get on top of a few numbers and facts: • Schedule a medical check- up, including a blood test, to rule out any nutritional deficiencies that need to be addressed. For athletes, common areas of concern are iron and B12. While deficiencies can be relatively easily addressed from a dietary point of view, they can be crippling for race day results. A sports nutritionist, or someone experienced with athletes, health and performance, can help plot suitable diet strategies. Keep a food log for a week or two to get a handle on what you are eating. Most of us are deficient in quality nutrients (usually from inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables, coupled with high training loads). Improving nutrient density – the amount of nutrients per calorie – in your day to day diet will, in itself, boost race- day performance this summer without any other changes. It will certainly improve your overall health. A basic food log, coupled with an activity and symptom/stress/sleep diary, may also help you figure out if there are any food intolerances or reactions that might prevent you from training or recovering to your potential. These logs can also help you understand the impact that certain foods have on performance.
Once you have ironed out any nutritional deficiencies or food intolerances and are working to create healthy habits in regards to nutrient density, then get to work on some specifics for race day: