Wonder Woman: at 43, Kate Rutherford is ready to save the day for Hong Kong triathlon
Despite repeated rejections to represent her city, housewife kept trying and training. Now, she has the opportunity to help the sport regain elite status
Kate Rutherford came to Hong Kong 12 years ago as a housewife. Today, at 43 years old, she is seen as triathlon’s Wonder Woman – a heroine who can save the sport that once overlooked her and restore its status among the elite disciplines at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
The mother of two will make her debut for Hong Kong today when she competes in the 2016 Le Morne ATU Sprint Triathlon African Cup in Mauritius.
The event is merely the first step for Rutherford, though, whose main target is next month’s Asian Championships in Hiroshima, Japan.
If she can help Hong Kong to a medal in Hiroshima, triathlon can use her performance – along with three other outstanding results over the past year – to return the sport to the institute’s Tier A level, which they lost after the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
“I never dreamed I could have the opportunity like this, especially at my age. I am very lucky,” said Liverpool-born Rutherford, who picked up the sport six years ago. “I have been working very hard over the last few years and tried many times to get into the national squad. I am very grateful for the opportunity.
“Now I want to do the best I can because I don’t want to let anybody down and hopefully I can help raise the standard of triathlon in Hong Kong.”
Triathlon has been part of the Institute since the early 1980s but lost its elite status in April last year after failing to meet performance requirements over the previous four-year review cycle.
Retired triathlete Lee Chi-wo, now a lecturer at the Chinese University, saved the sport from being demoted when he won a silver medal at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
Four years later, Andrew Wright, now a coach, produced the goods with his seventh-place finish at the Guangzhou Asian Games. However, they had run out of heroes by the time Incheon came along.
They now have a chance to restore their elite status. Rutherford understands her role in triathlon’s overall scheme, though she has concerns about the swimming leg.
“I developed quite quickly as a triathlete since I took up the sport, racing in different distances from sprint to the more demanding ironman and have been tempted to try to qualify for the national team,” said Rutherford. “But I always failed in the swimming selection benchmark as they use a 400-metre swim in the pool even if we swim in the sea during competition.
“The last time I failed in the benchmark was in January because my tumble turn is not very good. But I think they desperately need help in the Asian Championships as I can race in the mixed team relay and the women’s elite category. At the moment, there are not too many female triathletes at that level.”
Rutherford, who trains up to 28 hours a week when preparing for longer distance races such as the ironman, clearly cherishes her selection, knowing she had to fight hard for it.
“I have been told by the Triathlon Association a few times, saying no to my selection, but I kept training, kept trying and kept going and here I am going off to my first race representing Hong Kong,” she said.
“I do hope people don’t give up on their dreams because you never know around that corner.
“I wish I did have the opportunity to do triathlon at the age of 18 or 19 back in the UK. But even if I have missed that opportunity, I am now going to make it work for me.”
Despite her age, Rutherford hopes to represent Hong Kong for a few more years yet.
“Age is just a number and I don’t feel any difference when I was 20,” she said. “But I really don’t know how long I can stay at the top level and, hopefully, I’m not just a one-hit wonder as I want to help out the team for a few more years.”