U.S. Triathlete Saw a Rainbow and 'Felt' Late Dad During Her Medal-Winning Race 3 Months After He Died
"I just gave a little, 'Hi, Dad.' I just felt like that was him. I felt him," Katie Zaferes said after competing. "I feel like he'd be so happy"
Katie Zaferes was partway through the women's triathlon in the Tokyo Summer Games — at some point during the 1,500-meter swim or the 40-kilometer bike race, before the 10-kilometer run — when she saw a rainbow in the sky. And she knew.
"I just gave a little, 'Hi, Dad.' I just felt like that was him. I felt him," she told NBC right after competing. "I feel like he'd be so happy."
On Tuesday, Zaferes, 32, won bronze in the women's individual event with a time of 1:57:03, the third medal for the U.S. in that event in Olympic history.
It was a victory to savor though it was tinged with grief: In April, Zaferes' father, Bill, died suddenly while was out running errands.
Zaferes, a Maryland native and Syracuse University steeplechase star, stumbled in her initial races of the 2021 season right after her dad's death but says now she was "confident that given six more weeks of really hard training, I could get myself into a good spot."
"It was a really tough time, and I had two very rough races," Zaferes told reporters after her bronze medal. "So to have the confidence that I'd be ready for today and then be able to execute that and actually be ready and be on the podium — I am so proud and so happy I was even given the opportunity to be here."
Bermuda's Flora Duffy took gold in the triathlon and Great Britain's Georgia Taylor-Brown won silver after pulling ahead of Zaferes in the last lap.
In June, for Father's Day, Zaferes shared family photos on Instagram and reflected on her "conflicting feelings" in the months after her loss.
She also remembered how her dad had helped pull her into triathlon in the first place.
"Father's Day was the first triathlon I ever did, and it was with him," she wrote. "At the time I thought I was doing it for my dad, only to find out many years later it was all a scheme to get me introduced to the sport."
For Zaferes' dad, though, that meant that he had to learn to swim — thanks to lessons in the pool with his daughter and videos on "YouToo."
"On the day of the race I remember watching him swim the longest 400 meter swim. He made his way across the pool each lap with such determination and such a smile at the end," Zaferes wrote in her post. "He would go on to do many more triathlons with many more stories about his swims (and getting to know the kayakers who would redirect him)."
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She continued: "My takeaway was always just how resilient, brave and somewhat stubborn he was. How willing he was to put himself in an uncomfortable growth situation. How dedicated he was to being better. The things he would do for others. And how he always had fun and came out with a story no matter what the scenario. He made me so proud."
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.