TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I had the very rewarding opportunity recently to talk triathlon with Kat Gunsur. Kat wears a lot of triathlon hats including that as the TCSD’s Social Media Director. She is a huge part of the process that puts us on the map and gives our club world-wide visibility. Kat is also very focused on helping others as you will see by her work with Team Challenge.
Craig: What sports did you do before triathlon?
Kat: Ice Skating, Horseback Riding, Ballet, Jazz, and surfing; my little heart was broken many times in those sports. Unfortunately, my brother was good at EVERYTHING he did, and me, well, not so much. We grew up playing club soccer just like my dad did when he grew up Istanbul, Turkey (Fun fact: I have dual citizenship in the US and Turkey) I remember watching him and my brother play, and they were SO GOOD and FAST. My brother is one of those people who is naturally gifted, so much so that he won the 8000 Meter Challenge 2 years in a row – and I didn’t even know about it for a while! The 8000 Meter Challenge is a race where participants climb the 3 tallest peaks in Southern California in 24 hours for a total elevation gain of 8000 meters (Mt. San Antonio, Mt. San Gorgonio, San Jacinto Peak).
Gymnastics was my first love and I of course dreamed of being like Dominique Moceanu and cursed my parents for not signing my life away to gymnastics at 3 years old. Instead I started at 13…..so I was already too old. Nonetheless, I was OBSESSED with gymnastics and was also on my high school’s Varsity dance team and dance company, lettering in Dance and Theatre (yes you can actually do that). Gymnastics was my world, but I just didn’t have the talent and so those who can’t do, coach, just like the famous Bela Karolyi. I coached for 8 years in LA, San Diego and San Francisco.
Craig: After college you worked as an intern at the Olympic Training Center. How did you land that job and what did it entail?
Kat: Gymnastics was such a passion of mine that I used to mock design how my gym would look inside on Microsoft paint…..super high tech. I received my BS Management degree at San Diego State and during my time there was part of the Business Honors Program, while also coaching, joining a sorority, choreographing for the SDSU theatre department and of course massive amounts of partying.
I was pretty serious about owning my own gym one day and was stoked on the opportunity to live with Olympic athletes. Living at the Olympic training center meant that I had the opportunity to live like an Olympic athlete in the dorms, eat like an athlete, have my room cleaned daily and also train like an athlete……except in Operations management mastery and high intensity intervals of Microsoft Excel.
But in all seriousness, the Olympic Training center was a playground for my old athletic self, and the previous mentioned massive amounts of SDSU partying, led to an overweight, sloppy looking Kat. The training center in Chula Vista hosts Track and Field athletes, softball players, archers, field hockey players, Olympic weightlifters, rowers etc. We also received a free membership to a popular fitness chain and my love for fitness EXPLODED during this time. I kind of caught that fitness craze bug taking kickboxing, strength training, and cardio classes.
Stupidly, I did not continue working at the USOTC after my internship ended in 2006, and instead moved to San Francisco to be the lead program director of a girl’s gymnastics team in the Presidio right next to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was there that my gymnastics career ended, I had lost my drive for pounding perfection into 6 year olds (the significance of what a pointed toe and high releve should look like lost its appeal) and I starting managing facilities at this popular fitness chain throughout San Francisco.
Craig: How did you get started with triathlon?
Kat: My relationship with triathlon began during what I would call a quarter life crisis. Uncertainty in relationships, where I was living, what I was doing and also lack of friendships as all my friends were still finishing college at SDSU all came to a head when I starting working at the corporate office for this fitness chain.
They really encouraged us to live the fitness lifestyle so all of a sudden and it was not uncommon for everyone to be working out on their lunch hours so suddenly….I found myself running. Running is strange for an ex gymnast and soccer player. You pretty much prance sprint run 50 yards to a spring boardy horse launcher thingy in gymnastics.
I remember when my goal was to run 8 minutes straight, then 20, then 30. I signed up for a 5k and didn’t realize till recently (thanks to Athlinks) that I had won my age group. I called my mom almost in tears of joy telling her it was one of the hardest things I had ever done; funny now 6 years later after finishing Ironman, a few half’s and countless sprint/Olympic distances.
Unfortunately, things only got worse in my personal life while I started training for the Nike Women’s half marathon; a race I said I was only doing because I wanted a Tiffany’s necklace (so shallow I know, now I have 6 of them from running Nike every year). Something changed in me that day and that race changed my entire core being.
After seeing the sea of purple surround me at Nike I found myself on the Team in Training website signing up for a triathlon to raise $5,000 for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s mission and for the Lavaman Triathlon 6 months later. I didn’t even know what a triathlon was!
Fate was sealed. I raised over the $5,000 minimum, made friends for life (I was just asked to be the Godmother for my best friend from TNT), and crossed the finish line at Lavaman in 2008.
Craig: You became a coach for Team in Training pretty quickly. What was that experience like?
Kat: After my first triathlon with TNT I did every race I could, became a captain my second season and then moved to North Carolina to become the Fitness Director of O2 Fitness and started doing what I really loved, group exercise and personal training, teaching such classes as TRX, spin, bootcamps, ab sculpt, sports performance etc.
After 1 year in triathlon, Team in Training needed a coach in Raleigh so it’s only completely logical that I would coach right? My fitness certifications and past coaching experience only gave me a sliver of what I needed to do, but I coached for them for two seasons sending athletes to the Nation’s Triathlon and Wilmington Sprint in 2009 and 2010.
Craig: What is Team Challenge and what was your involvement early on?
Kat: I started to realize that I loved what triathlon gave to me but also I LOVED helping others, volunteering and helping important causes such as the Leukemia Lymphoma Society.
I did NOT love North Carolina. My family was in LA, my friends in SD, I had to get back to San Diego.
Team Challenge which is a half marathon and triathlon training program that benefits the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, had an opening for their triathlon manager. This job was made for me!
I moved back to San Diego in 2012 and have been working with the Team Challenge San Diego TriRock team since. Team Challenge is an amazing and inspiring organization. The people I have met are my family and they have humbled me in my training and my race endeavors. I’m never sick and I don’t have an incurable disease and I started growing tired of my “ME ME ME, look at me, look what I did!” attitude. To see the strength of my teammates when they may not be feeling well or have been released 5 days from the hospital before TriRock and still racing truly makes me realize that there are people who are bigger than me and that are fighting DAILY with IBD. They do not let it bring them down, and instead find comfort and support with our group. You cannot find a better job than this.
Team Challenge has brought over $169 million to research and have funded huge initiatives, especially in this past year. We have received a 4 Star Rating from Charity Navigator the past 3 years in a row, an honor ONLY 12% of other nonprofits receive.
A lot of people don’t understand why this is important, or what Crohn’s and Colitis and why is it so debilitating? Well……Just because you can’t see the effects of someone who has Crohn’s and Colitis doesn’t mean that it is not an important cause. Crohn’s and Colitis are both inflammatory bowel diseases that affect your colon, large intestine and/or entire gastrointestinal tract. A lot of people call it the “invisible disease” for that reason and also because it is not something typically someone would want to share! Oh it’s that bathroom disease? No it’s unfortunately more than that, in and out hospital stays, mental illness, anxiety, multiple medications, sometimes multiple surgeries and even death. I think now more than ever I am rallying support and funding for these two diseases because a top researcher was asked this past year what kind of research we see being done in the next 10 years and he said NONE….because we will have a cure by then!
Craig: Congratulations on your recent promotion to National Triathlon Team Manager for Team Challenge. What will you do in that role?
Kat: I’m EXTREMELY excited and honored to be given this role as it means that I will continue in Team Challenge’s efforts while working more closely with Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events. This past September we were given over 200 spots at IM Chattanooga for Team Challenge and each participant must raise $5,000 to gain entry into the race. Yes, you are calculating that right…..that is $1 million dollars that goes back to CCFA and is huge for our organization as at TriRock we will usually raise about $490,000. In reality people will over fundraise as this is near and dear to their heart.
This event sold out in less than 3 minutes. Naturally, triathletes wanted to be a part of an Inaugural IM event in Tennessee and the 200 spots sold within 24 hours. Truly amazing!
With this promotion I will have the chance to support people in their road to Ironman through their fundraising and training with Team Challenge. I wish I could tell you what races we have slated for our 2015 year, seriously…..I am the luckiest girl in the world and will go places I’ve never been to and meet people I would have never met without this organization.
If you’ve ever wanted to train for a higher purpose or maybe honor someone you know or yourself, I would highly recommend training with any charity training program. Can you say life changer? http://www.ccteamchallenge.org
Craig: What do you do as the TCSD Social Media Director and how does the club benefit from social media?
Kat: I have to thank Cory Gasaway for interviewing me for this opportunity. Cory and I met at the Rush Indoor cycling studio where I teach a few times a week. I also proudly coach at Orange Theory Fitness in Point Loma and La Jolla as well as the Wavehouse in PB. We did not have a social media position before I started in April 2013 so I implemented the transition from TCSD group page to a fan page.
This is critical in that you can analyze the reach you are attaining from each post, and also reach out to not only our members, but potential members, pro athletes and our amazing sponsors. With the fan page we can communicate with members with what is on the schedule for the week, inform them about future events, post photos, create videos of our club races and connect with new, present and past members. What I love about using this platform is that we are almost keeping an online yearbook of TriClub San Diego while also celebrating other exciting events in the triathlon world.
I am able to schedule posts way out in advance so that I can still continue on with my full time job with TC as well as my teaching schedule (about 12 hours/week at Orange Theory and The Rush, I LOVE teaching since I love seeing people reach their goals and it doesn’t hurt to get paid for training every once in a while!).
We’ve also added a Twitter and Instagram account (@triclubofsd) into the mix and just released our club YouTube channel!
Craig: What are some of your favorite triathlon race experiences?
Kat: Lavaman 2008 – my first triathlon ever, in Hawaii #nobigdeal.
Wildflower long course 2012 – basically the day I started dating Scott Smith and accomplished a long time goal of finishing something I used to think was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Vineman 2012 – my first and not last Ironman
Alcatraz 2013 – the challenges I faced that day (not being an amazing swimmer) and finding myself COMPLETELY ALONE out in the water at one point, left me feeling like I could do anything I put my mind to.
North Face Endurance Challenge – 50 mile race I paced Scott with for 20 miles. His first and LAST 50, it was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of. The views, the challenges, the competitors and the journey really brought us so close together.
Bass Lake 2014 – I didn’t race, but I sent 15 athletes from Team Challenge with my coaches. One of our participants was one of the last to cross the finish line and the entire team waited for her till the bitter end and ran her into the finish line….truly an exemplary example of the meaning of TEAM
Craig: Your relationship with Scott Smith is an interesting one. How has your relationship with Scott evolved over the years?
Kat: Scott and I actually shared a bathroom together back at SDSU in 2005-2006 when we were roommates. For a few weeks he walked around campus with sparkles on him because he didn’t realize the lotion of mine he was using had a little in it, HA!
We were complete slobs back then, partying all the time Wednesday through Saturday nights, could not care less about school or doing much of anything athletic. After I graduated from college, he and my friends continued playing beer pong regularly and I was on my way to becoming more obsessed with fitness.
Scott and I have always had a strong relationship as friends and I think what I love most about him is that we just get each other and always finish each other’s…..sandwiches.
However, I had other dumb boys in the picture so he sat in the background for about 7 years. When I was in North Carolina he told me that he was training for Wildflower. I was literally blown away, as Wildflower was always a dream of mine and I had no idea that he was into triathlons as much as I was. The last thing I remember him really dreaming about was building a beer couch out of Coors light and for him, he probably remembers how much I loved cheese enchiladas and cheap champagne…….this is really embarrassing, geez.
Anyway, let’s just say this was a huge draw to move back to San Diego, be near my family, have the job of my dreams, and train with my best friend. Wildflower was a success and we’ve been together ever since, completed our first Ironman together, did the whole tattoo thing, and recently moved in together combining our 3 cats Richard, Bumblebee and Megatron.
I actually wrote a fun article about it for Active.com, you can read about it and hear about my other failed relationships where they pretended they were into triathlon, only to throw up on a training run where I was only at 70% of my max. Relationship ender for sure.
Craig: You and Scott are on the TCSD Ambassador Team. What has the Ambassador experience meant to you?
Kat: I’m really honored to be a part of this team. To move back here only 2 years ago, not know a soul, what bike shop to go to or even where to ride or run, it just feels good to be a part of this.
I was on a “club” team back in North Carolina. We got a lame kit and were sent on our way. No one said hi at races or “GO TRI CLUB” as you passed by. There weren’t any awesome meetings with Andy Potts or Scott Jurek and there certainly weren’t any free races. We are extremely lucky.
I’ve had some insane opportunities thanks to the TriClub such as winning cool stuff at meetings, writing articles for Active.com or modeling for Jim Vance’s latest book (my Mom wants to own every copy unless she already does). And more importantly I’ve met some amazing people who have really helped me; Brian Long did my first century ride with me while I was training for Ironman and Ken and Anita Flagg were always there every freezing Wednesday morning in February when I was training for Alcatraz and I seriously could not have done it without them. I think the people who inspire me the most are not always the pros, I’m more inspired by people in this club (too many names to list, but seriously you all are bad a#$@)
I get a little territorial if I see someone speaks ill of the club on our Yahoo forum or on Facebook. I mean…….what are you really complaining about here? We live in San Diego! We have the best training spots and we have the best club with amazing incentives for only $75 a year!
Our board works so incredibly hard and I am so thankful for their efforts to make us the “classiest” tri club around : )
Craig: What athletic accomplishment are you the most proud of?
Kat: My first place overall finish at Warrior Dash in North Carolina out of 2,100 females. No but seriously, I’m most proud of the receiving the “Most Improved athlete” award in 1995 when I played AYSO soccer.
Yep, I’ve had many podium finishes in triathlon, completed an Ironman and a few 70.3’s but I still remember the feeling I felt after working so hard toward improving myself and being recognized by my coaches in front of my team and parents. It may sound ridiculous, but maybe you can relate. That moment has propelled me forward with all my athletic, personal and career goals for the rest of my lifetime.
Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?
Kat: Longevity in triathlon. My overall goal is avoid burnout from the sport. I really want to enjoy it for my lifetime so instead of racing every single weekend, or a multitude of large races every year. I’ve decided that I want to always do Wildflower every year with Scott and then one “A” race. This year it will be the New York City Marathon (I actually got in!) and we’ve both never been to New York. Next year it will be Ironman Arizona so my Mom can see me race an Ironman. Yes, I would always love to be faster, stand on more podiums and swim with total ease. At the end of the day though, I want to continue to enjoy this life that triathlon has given me.
Craig: Kat, thank you so much for sharing your story. You epitomize what it means to give back to your community. I’m very glad to have had this chance to get to know you better. I know one thing for certain – I won’t be borrowing your lotion any time soon! Good luck in all that you do!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.