5 Traits of a ‘PWR Athlete’, From World’s #1 Ranked Triathlete

PWR Lab’s Dr. Jeff Moreno shares lessons learned from working with ITU's #1 World Ranked (Olympic Distance) Triathlete Katie Zaferes to help her achieve greater consistency.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
Marcus Aurelius

Tell Me A Story

A few months ago Olympian Katie Zaferes (see her ITU profile here) approached me at PWR Lab looking to add a consistent and purposeful strength program into her training plan. I asked her to do the same simple thing I ask of all my new athletes: “tell me a story”.

She began simply by telling me where she grew up, her time running in college at Syracuse University, the relationship with and gratitude toward her collegiate coach, her journey into the world of triathlon, and her desire to continue to improve in her sport. As we continued through her initial assessment I grew increasingly excited. Not for the obvious physical qualities that she possessed, but for the curiosity and openness she demonstrated, and her pure desire to “just get better” at her craft.

As a coach, teacher, physical therapist there are times you become keenly aware that the athlete in front of you will ultimately become the teacher. I knew early on in this relationship that this would be one of those times.

What ‘Being the Best’ Looks Like

We all know that Katie is one of the best Olympic distance triathletes in the world, and her recent accomplishments speak directly to her athletic dominance (Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Bermuda, Yokahama, Leeds, Montreal, etc.). Her external accomplishments and success are objective and easily quantifiable, but learning from Katie was not about wins or loses… it was about understanding her identity and came in the form of her answer to another one of my questions: “Which five words embody who you are within and outside of the sport of triathlon?” After some self-reflection, her response was: “I am...”
  1. Consistent
  2. Powerful
  3. Resilient
  4. Adaptable
  5. Evolving
Katie explained, “these are all words I strive to embody in both my training and racing and the things that I value the most.” My internal response was simply WOW! I was astounded.

Lessons Learned

The mind-body is truly an integrated system, much like the health-performance integration. I have come to appreciate that health and performance are NOT distinct from one another and that optimizing this intimate interconnection is crucial for long term development. I know this to be true, but rarely have I seen it purposefully practiced. For Katie, achieving this has taken substantial work even beyond the swim, bike, and run. Though often neglected, this mindfulness training (which need not be perfect) is equally important to the physical training athletes endure.. Thank you, Katie, for reminding me that the mind is just as important as the physical work that you accomplish daily.

Training is hard! To be the best requires sacrifice, difficult choices, and discipline. I processed Katie’s self-awareness and impressive mindfulness before considering the lesson to be learned from her incredible perspective. Sport and life alike are journeys, and an athlete’s journey toward ‘being the best’ necessitates a healthy outlook and attitude toward their sport. Katie likely knows that, by all objective measures, she IS the best, but more importantly, she accepts that there is NO perfect athlete. This healthy perspective is a product of her authentic and intrinsic motivation to simply be her best self, and not someone else's best, in both sport and life. That perspective and purposeful drive create a bulletproof motivational superpower: it has already put her on top of the triathlon world, and it will ensure she continues to thrive in virtually any endeavor. Thinking back on my time spent with Katie, I made a list of her traits that clearly contribute to the healthy relationship she has established with herself and her sport:
  • Intentional — purposeful and deliberate in her execution of training (and life).
  • Present — authentic, focused, aware, and always ready to work.
  • Consistent — resilient, healthy, shows up and gives herself the opportunity to compete.
  • Driven — stole this from Katie's husband, Tommy... couldn’t be more true.
  • Team-centric — key members sit in the “boardroom” of this successful company, including Tommy (supporter #1), Joel Filliol (an amazing coach), and so many more.
Thank you, Katie, for reminding me of the “big picture” and that our perspective and outlook are just as much key performance indicators as swimming, biking, and running are to an individual’s overall performance.

One Day At A Time

Learning from Katie has reminded me that getting better is a daily process. At PWR Lab we approach performance as a product of Preparedness, Wellness, and Resiliency for good reason. It is these three fundamental pillars that are the foundation in everything that we seek to understand, whether through data, with the athlete directly in front of us, or both. Katie is the true embodiment of what it means to be a PWR Athlete.
“I just want to keep getting better.”
Katie Zaferes

Enjoy the Journey,
Dr. Jeff Moreno
Dr. Jeff Moreno
About Dr. Jeff Moreno

Jeff, co-founder of PWR Lab, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board-Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. Passionate about running and playing, Jeff fundamentally loves people and movement of any kind. He strives to raise the bar in sport by finding ways to proactively prevent injuries and prioritize the long term development of athletes. He has been successful in employing a data-driven, hands-on approach to physiotherapy with National, World & Olympic Championship medalists in Track & Field from USA, China, Canada, and Mexico as well as many NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Judo, and Triathlon athletes