By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Triathlon is one of the most grueling sports, encompassing the three different disciplines of swimming, bicycling, and running, but one Cherokee athlete revels in the challenges faced and lessons learned along the way. Katelynn Ledford-McCoy, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is currently training for an Ironman triathlon event to be held in September in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Little Debbie Ironman Chattanooga will be held on Sunday, Sept. 26 and will involve a 2.4 mile swim in the Tennessee River, a 116 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.
Although she has been training and participating in long-distance running for several years now, Katelynn is new to the sport of triathlon having done her first one in 2019 while on her honeymoon. “It was fun! I really like the transition of the sport. It’s not just one sport where you’re having to do it constantly over and over. You get to do the three – the swim, the bike, and the run. I really do like the transition of it.”
Of the three disciplines, Katelynn says that swimming is currently her strongest feature, but she acknowledges that a lot of work is needed in that area. “I wouldn’t even say that my technique is that great. That’s one of the things that I wish we had in Cherokee is somebody to teach the kids and us how to swim, how to train, someone who’s been trained in it…even when I was a kid, I was the water dog of the family. I was the one that was always in the river and didn’t want to get out.”
Katelynn’s husband, Kallup McCoy II, is also a triathlete and, in addition, is currently training with his sights set on qualifying in the marathon event at the 2024 Summer Olympic games. “I will say, that is one area that I have the upper hand on Kallup,” she chuckled. “I can beat him in the swim, but then after the swim I know a little bit later he’s going to come catch me on the bike.”
She said that cycling has been a challenge and she is currently working to improve her skills on gear selection, pace, hill management, and transitions between the swim and biking. “To get out of the swim and come directly to the bike is kind of tough. You’ve already exerted a lot of energy doing that and then you jump on the bike.
“There are a lot more variables that come with biking,” Katelynn said. “Anything can happen on the bike. You could run over something and then you’ve got a flat tire.”
Managing energy throughout a race is important, she says. “In a triathlon you have to think about keeping your pace and not getting ahead of yourself. Just because you finish one area, you’ve still got a whole other area you’ve got to work on, then you’ve got another one. Especially in the Ironman, it’s such a larger endurance sport.”
Katelynn has been participating in area triathlon sprint events, shorter distance versions of the sport, to prepare for her upcoming Ironman race. “I did a sprint a couple of weekends ago and that really helped me to be in the setting and to know that this is what I’m going to have to prepare for. This is what it’s going to feel like, but on a larger scale because there will be quite a few people there. And, even that can be a little intimidating.”
A typical triathlon sprint event consists of a swim of 200 to 500 meters, a bike ride of 11 to 12 miles, and a 5K run.
When asked her advice to those wishing to enter the sport of triathlon, she commented, “I would say to definitely reach out to other people that have done it before to try to get some knowledge. The biggest thing I’d say is to just pick a race and put it on the calendar. Allow yourself enough time to train in those different individual sports. Also, don’t forget about your strength training, too, because that’s mobility and keeps you strong enough to put in the training. The Cherokee Fitness Complex is a great, great resource to use because they have all the equipment there for working out and they have the pool. Sometimes I’ll run around town, or they have treadmills there.”
While she does still enjoy long-distance running in events such as marathons or ultra-marathons, triathlon is a great fit for Katelynn. “I just feel joy doing it.”
In both her athletic endeavors and her life, Katelynn, who works as a peer support specialist with the Analenisgi Recovery Center, exudes a positive attitude. She recently attended a conference aimed at improving her motivational speaking. “One of the speakers had said ‘words create worlds’ and it just really hit my spirit.”
She has begun to whole-heartedly implement this into her training. “During training, I should be telling myself ‘I am an Ironmen’ not ‘I hope to be one’ or ‘I’m trying to be one’…I’m putting in the work, I’m putting in the effort, I’m out here doing what it takes to be able to succeed so speak it into existence – speak life over it. I realized that I am going to do that not just with training, but with any aspect of my life.”
She added, “Step into the person you are, step into your purpose. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t my purpose to be who I am. I just think it’s a lot more encouraging.”
In speaking of her own path into recovery from addiction, she noted, “I want to inspire people. I want to lift them up. When people look at me, I want them to think ‘I know if I go around her I’m going to feel the positivity coming from her’ and just have a good energy. That way, they can start believing in themselves too and think ‘I’m not just trying out here in life, I’m doing it’.”
“I want to be the person that I needed to see when I was in my active addiction.”