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THE JOURNEYWOMAN.

 

The chameleon of the Specialized Women's Racing team, having competed as an Elite level runner, triathlete and now cyclist, Kate McIlroy is also without a doubt the most decorated. And most humble. She claims in her charming, tongue-in-cheek manner to be double the age of most of the women in the team. It's not true, of course, but this Wellington-born athlete has notched a number of significant strings to her bow that bely her tender years and steely personality.

 

Kate represented New Zealand at the London 2012 Olympics, twice at the Commonwealth Games, has been the World Mountain Running Champion and the country's Sportswoman of the Year. She now counts a job in the marketing department at Xero, a global online accounting software firm, among her many successes. But her lofty sporting goals remain long after she feared they might have disappeared for good. She recently finished fourth in the New Zealand National Road Championships – a result she would have been disappointed with – and is targetting the 2018 Comm Games. She cheekily tells me she hasn't put the 2020 Olympics beyond reach either.

 

Don't bet against her. Or try to compete with her at drinking games. But we'll leave her to explain that away.

 

"I was a runner. It was always my dream to compete for New Zealand in track athletics at the Olympics." – Kate McIlroy

"I was a runner. It was always my dream to compete for New Zealand in track athletics at the Olympics," says Kate. "I qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in 3000m steeplechase, but had to pull out with an Achilles injury."

 

A decade on you can still see the disappointment in Kate's eyes. But resolutely she turned her frustrations to swimming and road biking to keep fit. A series of local triathlons, a run of good results and she was picked up by the Triathlon NZ development programme. It ultimately led to a career that stemmed eight years and many successes – the pinnacle being her top ten finish at London 2012.

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"I knew deep down that somersaulting off my bike was the end of my triathlon career."

 

But last year injury struck again. And this time in rather more dramatic fashion than some of her previous career-defining niggles. An off-season mountain biking accident on Kate's beloved Mount Victoria. "No blood or scratches, just that sickening pain," she says matter of factly. "My self-diagnosis of a detached hamstring was initially laughed off and diagnosed as a Haematoma. With my gut screaming at me to push for an MRI scan, a week later, I was diagnosed with a detached hamstring and was in the operating theatre two days later having my muscle re-attached to my pelvis.

 

"I knew deep down that somersaulting off my bike was the end of my triathlon career." For such a decorated athlete to be forced from competition and from everything she knew and loved is often a more notable bump to the earth than the accident itself.

 

"It's been really hard. It's not something that gets talked about a lot because until you go through it, you don't realise how hard it is. Your whole life is focused on this one dream of being the best athlete in the world and then all of a sudden it's taken away from you. You're like what am I going to do with my life now? You feel like you're starting from scratch again."

 

You are. Suddenly you're a nobody. Unless you've grown up competing in New Zealand's national game of rugby no one knows your name. Or what you've achieved. And the transition to corporate life also comes with challenges for those not used to the system or how to play that game.

 

"If you get frustrated in a sport, you're like I'll show them on the field. I'll go and beat them. In the office, how do you show that you've beaten someone else?

 

"If you get frustrated in a sport, you're like I'll show them on the field. I'll go and beat them. In the office, how do you show that you've beaten someone else? It's just not that black and white, and that's what I struggle with. The goals are less clear," remarks Kate. A steep learning curve for someone who has been so concentrated on one premeditated achievement.

 

"It's so different to what I've been doing, I have found it hard. But I'm very lucky to be in the company that I'm working for in terms of the way they treat their employees and the flexibility of working hours. It's not a stiff corporate company – Xero is very new age in that regard. People said to me I'd struggle. But that's probably softened the fall somewhat."

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"Cycling gives me a balance from corporate life. It helps me manage everything – mentally, emotionally and physically."

 

As much as Kate is enjoying climbing the corporate ladder, her ambitions as an athlete remain notable. She comes to the Santos Women's Tour Down Under with high ambitions having guest ridden for the team on occasion last season.

 

"Cycling gives me a balance from corporate life. It helps me manage everything – mentally, emotionally and physically. I've competed my whole life, since I was seven. I have to compete. I thought I could stop, I was like, 'oh I'll be fine I'll just go on, work on the other part of my life, my career, and I was like no, I still need that outlet'. Training, and feeling tired from training.

 

"I started cycling for good reason … I'm still competitive. I think if I were going to races and getting my arse handed to me, then I would be like 'oh, it's probably time to just let it go', but I can still kind of hold my own. In five years time, I probably won't have that, so I'm here to make the most of it."

And make the most of it she will. Kate's dry sense of humour is matched only by her steely determination and incredible natural talent. She will succeed. On the bike. Off it. And in anything she chooses to focus on. Crucially, she'll do it with a smile on her face and with humility.

SPECIALIZED WOMEN'S RACING WILL COMPETE IN THE SANTOS WOMEN'S TOUR DOWN UNDER. JANUARY 11-14, 2018


MEET THE TEAM AT THE CHATEAU