Kelly Cook learned to swim when she was just over a year old in Greensboro, N.C., and hasnt spent much time away from the pool since. By age five, she was leading Atlantas Brookwood Hills Swim Team to club victories with her trademark speed in the freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. She won state age-group titles as a junior, swam in high school for Pace Academy, and competed as a collegiate swimmer at the University of Arkansas.
At age eight, Kelly found her second love: running. After years of cheering on her parents, who are avid distance runners, Kelly ran the Peachtree Road Race in 1982. By age 14, she had broken Georgias high school record for the mile run with a time of 4:57.7 in the spring of 1988. There was only one problem: Kelly was still in the eighth grade. Since she was ineligible for high school competition, her record didnt count.
Later she made up for lost time, earning seven Georgia high school state championships in track and cross country. At the University of Arkansas she made the All-Southeastern Conference track team in the 10,000-meter run (6.2 miles). She also managed to graduate with the highest grade point average of any student athlete (3.96).
Back in Atlanta, Kelly wasnt sure she had found her longer-term athletic niche, despite amazing successes with running and swimming. A new option presented itself when the International Olympic Committee added the triathlon to the Summer Olympics program.
The triathlon is a grueling discipline. At the Olympic level, a triathlete must complete more than six miles of distance running, nearly a mile of open-water swimming, and 25 miles of road cycling. All require varying blends of toughness, patience, and skill. Most Olympic athletes cover the combined distance in just over two hours.
Kelly still had to master the bicycle. City life and competing in two sports hadnt left much time in earlier years; in fact, she hadnt ridden a bike much at all from age 14 to 24.
Competitive cycling is by no means a casual ride around the neighborhood. It is a muscle-burning endurance exercise requiring cyclists to draft within inches of each other at more than 25 miles per hour -- and for hours at a time.
So far, Kelly has taken to the bike as she already had to the track and pool. In 2000, she debuted in the triathlon with a win at Memphis in May, and as the first amateur to complete the North American Triathlete Series Championship. In 2001, she won Memphis in May again, took third in her age group at the World Amateur Championships, and finished first among females at the Pan-American Amateur Championships. Kelly was also recognized as a United States Masters Swimming All-American in 2001.
Kelly turned pro in 2001, and finished sixth at the U.S. Pro Nationals in New York City. In 2002, she began pursuing her first International Triathlon Union ranking. Earning a ranking is the key step towards an Olympic Trials berth. The ultimate goal: an all-expenses paid trip to Athens, Greece in 2004 as a member of the U.S. Olympic Team.
Unfortunately, injuries sidelined her first full season as a professional in 2002. She took 2003 by storm when she placed fifth in the Vallo de Bravo ITU Triathlon. Kelly followed that up with a 10th place showing at the Clermont ITU International in Florida.
As the 2003 season went along, Kelly's ranking kept getting higher and higher. By July she was able to compete in the ITU World Cup events. A rough outing in her World Cup debut in Edmonton didn't slow her down. The following week she placed 18th in the Corner Brook World Cup. Her ranking shot from 124 to 94.
She is now preparing for the New York ITU World Cup on August 10. A course she is familiar with. In 2001, Kelly used the New York Triathlon as her first pro race (before the event was a World Cup). She placed 6th overall.
So where does Kelly stand in her quest for an Olympic berth? To earn a spot in the Olympic Trails, which will be held in three events during April, May and June 2004, an athlete has to be ranked in the top 125 in the ITU World Rankings. Kelly is in the top 100 and if all goes well, she will be racing for an Olympic spot next year.
What got you into swimming, biking, running?
I have always loved to swim. I learned how to swim at an early age (18 months) because my parents put me in a swim lesson program for infants. My parents said it was a great program. I started swimming competitively when I was 5 because our neighborhood pool (Brookwood Hills) started a summer league swim team and I wanted to be a part of it. After a few years of swimming competitively in the summers only, I realized that I liked swimming enough to start swimming year round. I joined Dynamo Swim Club when I was 9.
As for cycling, I just took it up so I could do triathlons. I had the swim and run background, but I knew I had to start riding if I ever wanted to do a triathlon.
Running- I got into running through my parents and through PE at my school. My parents were doing road races almost every weekend. I got tired of just watching them, so I started doing some of the fun runs. We also had a track unit in PE when I was in elementary school. I really enjoyed it.
What do you consider your strongest event? weakest event?
I guess I would have to say the swimming part of the triathlon only because it took me a little while to get used to running off the bike and because I have had some running injuries. However, when I am healthy and injury free the running should be my strongest event. I would have to say that the cycling is my weakest - hopefully because I haven't done it as long as the other two. I really hope to get a lot better at the cycling.
Favorite event to do? Triathlon or other.
I have more than one favorite event. Of course, I love doing Olympic and sprint distance triathlons. However, I really like doing 5k road and cross country races (I haven't done many of them lately, but I really enjoy doing them when I have a chance). I also really like open water lake swims (I haven't tried an open water ocean swim except for in a triathlon).
What unique places have you visited in competing?
I do not know if they are considered unique, but I have been to Edmonton, Canada and Puerta Vallarta, Mexico for triathlons. As a kid (for running), I have had races in Omaha and Lincoln Nebraska. In college, I had three races in Ames, Iowa.
Strangest thing you have seen during an event?
Um... this is a hard one, but once I was racing the Manchester Road Race in Connecticut on Thanksgiving Day and I say a guy running in a blue tutu. The worst part about it was he was up ahead of me.
What got you into triathlons?
After college, I really just wanted to run professionally, but I kept getting injured. I had a number of different people suggest that I try triathlons because they knew that I had a swim background as well as the running background. My friends and family also thought that I might stay healthier splitting up the three sports instead of just running every day.
What made you decide that the sport was for you?
I guess I knew right after my first triathlon. It was a sprint race in Charlotte, N.C. I really enjoyed the race itself as well as all of the people I met after the race. Also, as I continued to train for triathlons, I realized that I was staying a lot healthier (injury wise).
What made you decide to go pro?
I basically decided to go pro because one of my goals is to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Trials in Triathlon. In Triathlon, you have to be a pro to be able to go to the races that earn points towards the Triathlon Olympic Trials.
Also, in the Pro races that I do, we are allowed to draft on the bike. The drafting often makes it more of a swimmer/runner's race which tends to benefit me since I come from a swimming and running background.