Kathy Grady never liked running. Ironically, in the center of landlocked South Dakota, she swam. How does one of the best female triathletes our state has ever seen go from “just” swimming to dominating race after race that requires more land than water?
In short, she persevered.
From the age of 11, when a friend convinced her to join the swim team, she honed her skills until she owned the sharklike skills she uses today. Grady, now the current SDTA women’s leader, continued to swim throughout her junior high and high school summers, and then she received an invitation to swim for the USD swim team in college. Clearly, she was a fantastic swimmer.
Meanwhile, triathlon had begun in South Dakota, a sport that most runners typically find before swimmers. When Grady lived and worked in Sioux Falls in 2006, she participated in the Master’s Swim class, like all good swimmers do. A girl she used to coach in Pierre also was swimming in the class, and she mentioned to Grady that she planned on doing the Watertown tri. A spark of interest grabbed Grady, and she signed up. At this point she had the perfunctory 10-speed like most new triathletes, and she’d done some biking, include a century ride. So she knew she could ride.
The first race began something pretty special for Grady, and arguably paved a path that has led her to many wonderful experiences and friends. Grady did not win that first triathlon. She didn’t even come in second. She led coming out of the bike, but when the run hit, so did that awful feeling that comes to those who haven’t trained for it. “If someone would’ve offered me a ride, I would’ve taken it,” she jokes now. She finished fourth of all the women, and like many first timers, she vowed to never do a tri again. . . until the ride home.
After completing a three-week run program designed by a friend, Grady took on her second triathlon, this time in Pierre. And this time she came home the victor. The first year Grady did 3 triathlons, and now she consistently completes (and often dominates) 10-12 each summer.
Grady not only competes in triathlon, but her life is steeped in it. Shortly after starting her amateur career as a triathlete, Grady’s family moved to Omaha, a scary place for a small-town gal. But Omaha gave to her as much as she did to it. In Omaha Grady’s love for triathlon grew as she won the inaugural Omaha tri and as a result was offered sponsorship from Scheels, including a new bike, shoes, and helmet. She also received her International Triathlon Coaching certification in Omaha. Unfortunately, two weeks after her sponsorship offer from Scheels in Omaha, Grady’s husband received a position in Sioux Falls, and the move required her to forfeit the sponsorship. But her I.T.C.A. certification continued to benefit her as well as the triathlon community after her family moved back to Sioux Falls shortly after her big win.
Now as the Aquatics Director at the Sanford Wellness Center in Sioux Falls and a USAT level 1 certified triathlon coach, Grady also leads the Triathlon Training Group for adults as well as a Kids Triathlon Training group. The training groups have grown consistently since their beginning a few years ago. No wonder Sioux Falls consistently produces some great athletes.
Additionally, while Grady wasn’t able to keep her sponsorship deal with Scheels in Omaha, she does have some sponsorship from Scheels of Sioux Falls, Sanford, and one of America’s Best Bike Shops, Spoke-n-Sport.
Grady cites the people in triathlon and the motivating atmosphere as two of her main reasons for staying with the time-consuming sport. “It’s fun,” she states, and as we all know, so are the people. Furthermore, now that Grady is looking back over 18 years of photos, preparing for her oldest son’s graduation, she also notes the fitness benefits that come from training consistently. “I always thought I was in good shape, but I wasn’t,” she states with a laugh.
New triathletes often find themselves intimidated by the sport, and as a coach, Grady has sound advice for them. “Find a group to train with. That makes it so much more fun when you have that social network,” she states. Additionally, triathletes who maintain consistent workouts find success and enjoy the sport more. “It doesn’t have to be long,” Grady says, but she recommends a 3-3-3 approach of practicing each discipline three times every week. Additionally, though she herself writes plans for triathletes and leads a training group, she notes the abundant resources available to those unable to find a group. “Even if you’re not going to find a group, there are so many free training programs out there,” she states.
Grady’s pedigree is long, so long that we cannot name all of the races she’s won. She perpetually comes out on top of the women’s field in local races, and as a result of her success, she’s had the opportunity to race in the Best of the US race. Additionally, she’s done well enough in the Sprint and Age Group Nationals to qualify for the World Age Group nationals more than once. In particular, racing in London stands out to her as one of her favorite races.
All total, Grady is beginning her 12th year of triathlon—of consistently excellent performances. If our math is correct, that means she did not begin to run or complete the swim-bike-run sequence until she was 38. This gives us all a little bit of hope. For this twelfth season she has two major goals: to stay injury free and to try to focus more on recovering. The triathletes that have donned the spandex for a long time know the value of both of these goals, as not doing one can cause problems with the other. They work hand in glove.
Grady has given us all something to aspire to, with her own busy full-time work schedule, personal training, and family affairs. In the “off season” she and her husband spend time following the hockey teams that her three teenage sons play for.
We look forward to watching Grady continue to compete in South Dakota and follow her as she conquers the world of triathlon