‘It just had everything’

World-class triathlete Katie Zaferes runs the Cary greenways in February. She has also trained at the Triangle Aquatic Center and ridden on area roads as she prepared for the Summer Olympics.

If you haven’t run into Katie Zaferes around town yet, the odds are you might soon. A decorated triathlete and Olympian, Zaferes recently tacked on another title to her impressive resume — Cary resident.

Despite no prior connection to North Carolina, Cary felt like home to the world-class female triathlete when she and her husband, Tommy, visited last summer. The couple had been looking to relocate from California to be closer to family in Maryland, and Cary checked all the boxes.

“We’ve traveled so much that we know what we like, and what we want in places, so it didn’t take us long to figure out that the area was for us,” Zaferes said. “It never seemed scary. We bought our house without even seeing it, because we knew what we wanted.”

In particular, Katie and Tommy Zaferes — who both have a background in competitive triathlon — were impressed by the town’s parks and greenways. The couple plans to make Cary their permanent home, eventually settling here after spending most of the previous seven years living out of a suitcase.

“I love the adventures now I’m having on the road,” Zaferes said. “But I’m so excited for when we are really settled down and get to explore more of Cary in a different way, and see it through different phases of our life.”

Zaferes, whose favorite post-triathlon food is a egg-topped burger and cookie dough ice cream, looks forward to exploring more restaurants in Cary, too.

For now, the town has served as a suitable training ground during the pandemic for the 32-year-old, who is a gold-medal favorite expected to represent Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics this summer. The change of scenery has helped Zaferes remain focused on her ultimate goal, even after the Olympics were postponed due to COVID.

“It was hard because, for a bit of time, we just didn’t know what was happening with the Olympics,” she said. “Once we found out it was postponed, it was a little bit easier to handle. But then the uncertainty of whether we’re going to race and living with my parents, which is very comfortable, but not necessarily high-performance, that was challenging.”

Zaferes has enjoyed running, biking and swimming all over the Triangle, but some of her favorite spots are running through Umstead State Park, Bond Park, White Oak Greenway and American Tobacco Trail. She has also been swimming at the Triangle Aquatic Center and biking along quieter roads, where she can push the intensity.

Katie Zaferes and her husband, Tommy, who is also a triathlete, say Cary’s parks, greenways and athletic facilities were a big draw when they were looking for a place to make their home.

Attracting the top female triathlete in the world is a huge endorsement for the Town of Cary’s investment in parks, greenways and other athletic facilities.

“It’s incredible,” said Doug McRainey, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. “And it makes you proud, because you’re looking at 20 to 25 years’ worth of investment the town has put in.”

With Cary now part of her story, Zaferes aims to take the next step in her career this summer after reaching new professional heights in recent years.

She ran in her first triathlon with her dad in 2007, but began competing professionally in 2013, after a four-year career running long distance on the Syracuse cross country and track and field teams. By 2016, she was selected to represent Team USA at the Rio Olympics, where she finished 18th — a disappointing performance she hasn’t forgotten.

Since then, Zaferes has honed her physical and mental training, setting a path to winning the International Triathlon Union World Championship in 2019, a career highlight up to this point.

“Katie’s progression since the 2016 Games has been a process of refinement across the three sports and how she approaches the races from a psychological point of view, as well as managing the ups and downs of the daily training more effectively,” said Joel Filliol, Zaferes’ coach. “Through these evolutions, she has been able to reach the top of the podium and contributed to her overall win in the 2019 World Championships.”

Katie Zaferes trains in Girona, Spain, with her coach, Joel Filliol, and several other Olympic triathletes.

Zaferes left Cary for Spain in April to begin fine tuning her training with Filliol, alongside a collection of other international triathletes ahead of the Olympics. This time around, armed with experience and a host of accomplishments, Zaferes is confident she is ready to handle the world’s brightest spotlight on her.

“I feel like every year has built up to this point, that I feel ready to handle myself in the Olympics and really enjoy the experience and really do well,” she said. “I think it’s just been really maturing, and having that first experience to learn a lot from.”

Zaferes is expected to compete in the Olympic women’s triathlon on July 27. She is also looking to compete in the mixed-relay on July 31, an event new to the Olympics this year.

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