Top South African triathlete and Olympian Kate Roberts is the perfect example of an athlete who gives more than 100% every time she competes. Roberts’s Olympic dream was inspired when she was nine years old, watching legendary Elana Meyer win silver in the 10 000m final.
“I have learnt that it is very important to have a dream. The power of having a dream and setting out to achieve it is about hanging on to hope when your heart has had enough, and giving even more when your mind and body want to give up. Yes, each step may get harder, but once the dream is achieved it is absolutely priceless, and well worth enduring the journey to get there.”
Roberts grew up in a home with sports-mad parents and their passion for sport rubbed off on her and her siblings. “My parents were both Comrades runners, and encouraged my siblings and I to compete in sport, and to enjoy it rather than just watch television. I have a twin sister and elder brother Gareth, and we always played outdoors.
“We had many enjoyable cricket and hockey matches in our backyard, raced one another around our garden, and in our swimming pool. As a result I learnt to love sport from a very young age.”
Roberts used to compete in athletics, cross-country, hockey and she swam for her school in galas. “I first thought that I would compete at the Games as a track athlete, but when the sport of Triathlon made its debut at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, I realized that all I needed to do was add cycling training to my swimming and running, and then I could possibly fulfil my dream of being an Olympic triathlete. I started competing in this wonderful sport.”
Roberts enjoys seizing opportunities that come her way, and says that triathlon has taught her that the quest for the perfect race places her on a path to mental and physical perfection, and that she can take pride in what her body can achieve.
“Triathlon has taught me so many things especially how to take control of my life. By being independent and in control I can feel fulfilled and have a sense of satisfaction when I have fulfilled my dreams and accomplished my goals.
“This is not because other people have told me that I am amazing,” says Roberts, “But because I have done something that I have chosen to do, taken ownership and seized the opportunities that have come my way.
“Finishing races in the top ten in the World Triathlon Series events has given me the confidence and mental fortitude to know that within my own limits I can attain whatever physical target I set for myself, if I am prepared to give everything I have.
Achieving is about Effort and Focus
“I have also discovered that the rewards in this sport only come in direct proportion to the amount of effort I am prepared to put into my daily training.”
Roberts is focussed and fully committed to triathlon 24 hours a day. And it is that winning attitude and effort that saw her achieve her dream when she represented South Africa at the 2008 Olympics. Roberts placed 32nd in Beijing, and shortly afterwards, teamed up with her current coach and mentor Dr Darren Smith with an eye on competing in the London Olympics in 2012.
“My triathlon coach Dr Darren Smith has been my mentor for the past four years. He is an incredibly tough and hard-working Australian, and has taught me so much about the sport of triathlon. He has taken me from being a very average triathlete to one able to compete with the best on the world stage.”
Roberts says representing South Africa at the London Games was her biggest highlight of 2012, even though she was very disappointed in the outcome. “I unfortunately crashed during the bike leg but was proud of the way I picked myself up and fought back hard for my 22nd placing.
“The Olympics are the pinnacle of our sport and competing there is just a very special moment in any athlete’s life.”
Roberts has high praise for London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley, who became the first South African woman since Hestrie Cloete to win an Olympic medal.
“Bridgitte’s bronze medal at the London Olympics this year was something that I really admired. The sheer joy and the happiness she showed after her 500m-canoe race made her my favourite South African sportswoman for 2012.
Roberts believes the best way to grow new role models in women’s sport is to encourage girls to continue with their sport after school. “There are many more opportunities for young girls to participate in sporting events and there should be no excuses.
“What concerns me is that many talented young girls give up their sporting activities when leaving school. They must be encouraged to continue with their sport after school and into adulthood and receive the necessary recognition like I have when they achieve.
Roberts rates young triathlete Carlyn Fischer highly. “In my opinion, she is the best talent that Triathlon South Africa has for the Olympic Games in Rio and I would be thrilled to see her go to those Games and beyond.”
“Over the past four years I dedicated myself and gave 110% to get the best result that I could in London. I spent nine months each year away from home. I was based with Darren my coach, in Australia, the USA and Switzerland, and it was not always easy to be away from home for such long periods, but I loved working with my coach and I definitely made great improvements as an athlete.
“After my Olympic race, I took a well-deserved break and have decided that making the decision to go to Rio is difficult for me at this stage. I have therefore decided to just take one year at a time and see what life will hold for me. I am committed to working this year to working hard with Darren, and hope to have the best year of my career to date.”
Roberts is aiming for a podium position on the World Championships Series in 2013, and she would also like to better her World Championship series ranking of 7th place that she achieved in 2010. She is also keen to make the South African Commonwealth Games team to Glasgow in 2014 and a possible medal.
Roberts has had the loyal support of key sponsors, making her triathlon career a reality.
“I have been very fortunate to be included in the BSG Elite triathlon team and backed by my title sponsor BSG (Business Systems Group) during my Olympic campaign over the past three years. Without their help and support, it definitely would have made the qualification process a lot more challenging for me. A big thank you must go to them for unlocking my potential and accelerating my performance towards the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“I have also been fortunate to have product sponsors such as Oakley eyewear, Sunnto heart rate monitors and BlueSeventy wetsuits, who have helped me perform at a higher level. This year I am excited about working with Mizuno running gear and Skins compression wear as I strive to have my best year in triathlon.”
Sponsorship continues to be a growth area for women’s sport. Roberts believes that the top three things an aspirant athlete should consider when setting out to gain a sponsor are compiling a good business plan with clear achievable goals and time frames; building an honest relationship with the sponsor, based on mutual respect and trust; and making a commitment to promoting the sponsor’s products and brand.
But all this comes after the initial focus which is to love the sport, be passionate about it and to allow the rest to follow. “The main thing when you are young, fit and healthy is never to forget to enjoy yourself, after all, its about having fun.
“Take into account that great love and great achievement involve great risk – who dares wins! Always believe in yourself, and have faith in your abilities. Be humble but confident in your own power and abilities, otherwise you will not be successful.”
Outside of triathlon, Roberts would like to improve her cooking skills, learn to play a better round of golf, spend more quality time with family and friends when she is at home and continue to grow and develop her writing skills by writing a weekly blog on her website.
Roberts is also keen to set new goals and challenges for herself outside the sport of triathlon, and she is excited about the next phase of her life.
“Long term, I aim to do what makes me happy in life and live with no regrets. I would like to start a career outside of triathlon, by making use of my B Com degree as a springboard into marketing or human capital management.
“I would always like to stay involved in triathlon as it has bought me such happiness and fulfilment, and I would be prepared to mentor our youth and the underprivileged within this environment. Eventually settling down, getting married and having children of my own would make me very happy too.”
One of Roberts’s aspirations is to run the Comrades marathon. She loves running and says it helps put her life into perspective. “The Comrades Marathon has always been a very important part of my life.
“Growing up, we used to accompany my father to Kwa-Zulu Natal for his annual Comrades race. He managed to complete eight races, and my mother also managed to complete two Comrades. My brother Gareth raced his first Comrades this year, and it was a very proud moment for us all. When I run the race it will be to continue with this family tradition.”
Ultimately, Kate Roberts is a proud South African, who uses every opportunity to promote the Rainbow Nation. “We are a nation made up of diverse cultures with a rather complicated history, but we are a fiercely proud nation.
“I love our incredible wild life and beautiful games parks, coupled with the friendliness and hospitality of our people. The way we were united as a nation during the 2010 Soccer World Cup made me incredibly proud to be South African.
“I also love our proudly South African products such as, biltong, Rooibos tea, Jungle Oats, Mrs Balls chutney, boerewors, koeksisters, milk tart and Ouma Rusks.”