AN ON­GO­ING LOVE OF TRIATHLON

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - T1 - BY HE­LEN POW­ERS

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.”

Clearly tak­ing time away to fo­cus on fam­ily did not di­min­ish her ta­lent or drive.

He­len Pow­ers is a free­lance jour­nal­ist from Hamil­ton, Ont.

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