This is my 3rd trip over to Maui for the race. My first year of getting my feet wet in the Pacific was quite intimidating. I learned a lot and vowed to train hard so I could return in 2016 and actually race, rather than merely participate in the event. While all the training and climbing hills over and over here in the Front Range prepared my legs and lungs, nothing could simulate the waves that crashed way over my 5’2” head, the monsoon rains, or the mud-fest of hike-a-biking on the race course in 2016. Fortunately, life has taught me much about digging in when the going gets tough and how to embrace the moment and laugh at the challenge at hand. (more on that to come) I finished 2nd in the 40-44 age group in 2016 and 7th overall amateur. I am really looking forward to racing Xterra Worlds this year and hope to end a rewarding season of racing on a memorable note.
How did I get into triathlon and find my way into racing off-road? In my life before having children, I was a runner. My husband taught me how to mountain bike while we were dating and we would spend weekends in the mountains camping and playing on the trails. After the birth of our 2nd child, however, our life changed.
My youngest daughter struggled a lot in those early months and years. She had breathing issues for much of her 1st year, spent a lot of time in the hospital hooked up to monitors, didn’t sleep for more than 2 hours continuously at night for over 2 years, and wasn’t reaching developmental milestones that most babies accomplish- no babbling, crawling, walking. When she was 16 months old, daughter’s neurologist called and matter of factly stated that test results confirmed that she had a rare genetic disorder called Angelman Syndrome (AS). He didn’t offer any consoling words or advice, just a recommendation to follow up with his office. As soon as I hung up the phone, I did what any parent would do – I flipped on the computer and googled the disorder. Bold, crushing words jumped off the screen at me… life-threatening seizures, no verbal communication, may never walk, sleep disorder, cognitive and developmental delays, requiring 24/7 lifelong care.
My world became very dark, not even the shades of gray that many function in daily, but black. I would get up in the morning after sleepless nights with my daughter, go through the motions of the day, just passing time, hiding from the rest of the world. I let the words I read consume me. I felt like all the beautiful dreams I had for my children and our future had died. My only solace was found in escaping to the trails for a weary run or bike ride. As I pounded the dirt, working my way through those stages of grief, disbelief, hurt, anger and sadness, I started to realize something. I didn’t have to let the darkness control my life. I could run. I could bike. I could do something.
I started dreaming more on the trail. I dreamt of curing Angelman Syndrome -after all, in 2008 it was cured genetically in the mouse model. While children are not mice, the science was there and researchers believed it not only could happen, but with the right funding and research, it could happen in the next 5-10 years. This dream gave me hope. It pushed me onward over the miles, further and faster.
I realized that I could either hide from the world, or let the world get to know me and my child through the sport that I sought comfort in. I signed up for my 1st triathlon, had success in it, so I signed up for another. As my daughter was challenged in therapy to learn how to walk, to communicate, and to feed herself, I challenged myself with bigger races, bigger goals. What has followed in the years since that life-changing phone call has been an adventure more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. While Angelman Syndrome is still not cured and each day at our house presents new challenges, human clinical trials for quite a few therapeutics, including a very promising gene therapy approach to curing AS are just around the corner.
And my racing… I have been fortunate enough to race not only all over the US, but represented Team USA in Canada this past August for ITU Cross Worlds. I won overall amateur female at the Xterra Southeast Championships in Alabama this past May as well as the overall female winner at Xterra Gator Terra in Arkansas the following month, which doubled as USAT’s off-road Nationals. At Cross Worlds this past August, I placed 2nd in my age group to fellow Colorado 40-44 age group super mom and good friend, Jenn Razee of Vail. We finished 3rd and 5th overall amateur women. Jenn will also be racing in Maui. We truly battle it out on the courses and raise each other’s level of competition, which is exciting. We are both coming into Maui with a great lead-up race this year, Xterra Pan-Am Championships at Snowbasin Resort in Ogden, UT last month. For the 2nd year in a row, I finished 1st and Jenn 2nd overall amateur at the PanAm Champs. While we, and probably a few other athletes as well as our coaches (Jenn is coached by Josiah Middaugh and I am coached by his brother, Yaro), wonder who will cross the finish line 1st, we both will know that because of the other, we are stronger, train harder, and will race with everything we have out there… and give each other great big well-deserved hugs at the finish line. That is what I love about racing Xterra and what keeps pulling me back. At the end of the day, after we all cross the finish line, we celebrate each other, our friendships, and this incredible opportunity and life we share.
Katarina Marks, age 25, lives in Durango, CO. I got involved with Xterra triathlons when I got a free entry to a Xterra in my hometown three years ago, I went out, bought a wetsuit and gave it a go! I remember my goggles fogged up so bad that the swim seemed to take forever, the ride was okay- definitely wasn’t trained for it, and then I probably passed about 30 people on the run. It was tough and such a challenge, I think that’s what I enjoyed about it! From that race I qualified for the Xterra USA National Championships and from there, qualified for my first Xterra World Championships. This year will be my third year competing in Xterra World Championships. This year I qualified for Worlds at the Oak Mountain race.
Each year I’ve improved & have had even more fun! My dream is to become a professional Xterra triathlete in the next year. My motivation for competing is that “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” -1 Corinthians 10:31.
Why triathlon? Most people I talk to, say that they would never do a triathlon because “I could never do the swim.” And I want to encourage others to step outside their comfort zones, try something new, it could spark a new dream, try swimming, etc.! Give something new a try, it’ll be fun!