Tribute to Katie
Tri2O Triathlon Club is mourning the loss of our dear friend Katie who tragically died in a car accident while travelling up to compete in the Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire on 12th June 2015 at the age of 33..
Profoundly moving tributes to Katie have come from every part of her life; Katie the sister, the best friend, the girlfriend, the swimmer, the sponsored triathlete, the para-triathlon guide, the work colleague. There have been some beautiful, heartfelt words from Reading Swimming Club, Reading University, Tri Training Harder, British Triathlon and scores of Katie’s friends on social media.
We knew Katie in Tri2O Triathlon Club as the upbeat club-mate, the caring friend, the brilliant cake baker, the party girl, the comedienne extraordinaire (even sometimes intentionally!), the loyal training partner and so much more.
Katie was one of the first members of Tri2O after the club was founded in 2010 by a group of enthusiastic triathletes who aimed to build a friendly and inclusive club, without cliques, emphasising enjoyment over pure performance. Although she was the 2010 Reading Sports Personality of the Year, this inclusive ethos clearly appealed to her. Her attitude and nature epitomised all that we aspire to in Tri2O.
A regular with the fast (and sometimes feisty) weekend club cycle rides, Katie held her own with the boys without being aggressive or macho, powering up the hills and screaming (literally!) her way down the descents. She was a joy to ride with, always cheerful and grinning, and she took particular pleasure in the post-ride cakes. At Friday morning swim sessions where she became a regular over the last three years, Katie was the one to watch; members beckoned to observe in awe her smooth and graceful stroke, with which she seemed to glide through the water effortlessly – never looking fast until you looked at the clock. And then there were the giggles in the changing room!
Katie’s performances in triathlon races were fantastic from the outset, placing highly in every event she entered, qualifying for world championships, winning medals there too. Alongside this, she continued with her first love, swimming competitively, breaking world records and winning hoards of Masters medals. In terms of victories, world championship placings and world records, Katie was easily the most successful athlete our club has ever had.
However, Katie’s contribution to our club was so much more than the talented athlete, and she was so highly regarded because of her personality, attitude and the infectious positivity she exuded. Katie was humble and modest, yet never insincere or self-deprecating. She was impossibly funny, yet never spoke a sharp word. She was inspiring to so many, yet never elitist. She was positive and encouraging, yet never patronising.
Katie had that rare quality of making you feel like she was truly interested in your goals and achievements, whether it was a Park Run, your first ever triathlon, or if you were going for qualification for Ironman World Championships at Kona. Moreover, she took genuine pleasure in others’ achievements and always asked you how your race went. Triathletes have a reputation as tough, uncompromising, and individualistic; Katie was tough when it mattered, and trained so hard, whilst still being the softest, kindest and most selfless person, and she still won.
Katie had an impact on everyone whose path she crossed and had such a shining future ahead of her. She was universally loved within the club and the wider triathlon community and she is and will continue to be desperately missed. Her sparkling personality and attitude will never be forgotten.
We at Tri2O will do our utmost to ensure that a lasting and permanent legacy to her very special memory remains.
RIP Katie, we miss you so very much.
Tim’s eulogy at Katie’s funeral
Katie was one of the most amazing, inspirational people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. For someone who achieved so much and had such potential she was so down to earth and approachable, she had time for everybody.
As a child she discovered swimming and that is where her dedication to an athletic career begun. She told me she had an agreement with her Mum that she would only get up early to take her to training if Katie woke her, which of course she did every time. Although I’m not sure Sarah had the same view being dragged around swimming galas with big sister.
Katie excelled at swimming and carried on her progression at Loughborough University where she won multiple national medals. This resulted in GB selection for the 200m Breaststroke and an invitation to swim with Ben Titley and the high performance group, which included swimmers like best friend and Olympian Melanie Marshal, World Champion James Gibson and World No1 Liam Tancock.
After leaving uni she had a short break from swimming, but it wasn’t long before she joined Reading Swimming Club for who she competed regularly. Katie became a world class Masters Swimmer, setting a world 200m Breaststroke record in 2009 and a British 1500m Freestyle record as well as winning national titles in breaststroke, freestyle, medley and relay. For her masters achievement she was voted Reading’s Female Sports Personality of the Year.
One of her coaches suggested she give triathlon a go and it soon became her new sporting love. Although it didn’t get off to the greatest start. In her first race she didn’t quite get the idea that the transition was part of the race, stopping to do her hair and change her outfit. She then managed to trip herself up with her own bike, cut her leg open, break the bike and ended up with St Johns Ambulance.
Despite this rather shaky start she soon started to excel. In her first season she qualified for the Sprint World Championships, winning a bronze in her age group.
As she developed her skills she increased the distance she raced over, to Olympic distance, becoming British Champion in 2013 again qualifying for the world championships and also competing in a number of elite races that year. Then half ironman, coming 5th overall and 2nd in her age group at the UK 70.3, qualifying for the world championships in Canada were she finished 3rd in her age group and 3rd age grouper overall.
Earlier this year Katie was selected as one of four guides for visually impaired triathletes training for the Paralympic Games and was part of British Triathlon’s development squad. She had a very realistic chance of going to the Olympics in Rio next year.
It’s fair to say she did suffer from one or two injuries and some not your typical sport related injuries. I’ve never heard of anyone else injuring themselves on a foam roller? They are meant to help prevent injury, not cause them. But Katie being Katie managed to do it not once, but twice, fracturing her shin the first time and then her ribs only 6 weeks out from the world 70.3 champs. But in typical Katie style neither fazed her, she did what she did best and just got on with it.
She achieved things most could only dream of, yet to her she was nothing special. She was gifted yes, but she worked so hard to achieve what she did, juggling work, life and training to be the amazing athlete she was. Yet she was so unassuming and approachable, when you spoke to her, she was more interested in what you had done than talking about herself. In her eyes every single person was special and everyone could achieve whatever they wanted, if they set their mind to it.
Katie meant so much too so many and I’m sure all of you here have your own special memory of her. Whether that was girl who turned up late to the Friday morning swim frantically spinning her arms around in warm up.
The screaming if an aeroplane came anywhere near her or just any time she rode downhill.
Or her cakes, she’d stay up until silly times making, so she could take them into work or to the next club training session
She had the ability to make everything fun, smiling all the time.
As a training buddy she never missed a session, alright maybe she was late from time to time and as a friend she was the best there was, always there whenever you needed her. The huge gap Katie is going to leave in all our lives is testimony to how truly special she was.
- Katie’s Legacy JustGiving page (to raise money for British Triathlon Foundation Trust)
- Thoughts, memories and photos that club members have contributed to this special edition Tri2O newsletter to commemorate Katie
- Katie’s Legacy facebook page
- British Triathlon – Tribute to Great Britain triathlete Katie Henderson
- BBC News – Record-breaking swimmer Katie Henderson dies in road crash