This is part of a weekly series introducing readers to individuals who are passionate about our Mid-Valley community.
Kate Mathews had been out of work for almost a year and living in Alaska when she saw the posting for a head swim coach job at Sprague.
She saw it as the perfect opportunity to do what she really wanted: coach. It also allowed the 2013 Sprague alum to return to her hometown.
“Out of all the temp jobs that I would take this would make the most sense and be the easiest to come down for a few months and go back up to Alaska when the season was over,” Mathews said.
The job turned out not to be temporary as she is finishing her second season with the team at state championships this weekend.
Mathews is also gearing up for the biggest race of her life: the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Finland. The race, set for late August, is considered the most difficult at the 70.3 Ironman level, with a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run.
Mathews qualified for worlds in December at the Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells La Quinta race in California, where she finished third in the 25-29 age division in 4 hours, 52 minutes and 51 seconds.
“It did happen sooner than expected,” she said. “I remember telling my coach last year, ‘I want to go to worlds, and he said, ‘Okay, maybe in the next year or two.’
“I called him after the race and said, ‘Oh, by the way, I just qualified’ and he said ‘What?'”
At Sprague, Mathews was a top swimmer.
She said her coaching style is a reflection of her own experiences.
“I pay way more attention to grades than I did when I was swimming,” she said. “Just because education is going to get them so much further than athletics.”
She also is able to communicate with her athletes successfully by reading their nonverbal cues.
“For coaching there’s a very fine line between working your athletes and not having any fun with them,” Mathews said. “Once you start taking over your own program you really start to develop who you are as a coach and what you stand for.”
Mathews set off for Division I University of Hawai’i where she spent the 2013-14 season on the women’s swim team.
It was nothing like she expected it to be.
“I kind of lost what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to swim anymore,” Mathews said.
She decided to take a gap year and return to Salem where she eventually started taking classes at Chemeketa Community College.
“Ultimately, I did end up swimming, taking classes and finding out that swimming was something that I wanted to continue doing, and I found the love for it again,” Mathews said.
A second chance and a new opportunity
Mathews graduated in 2018 from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in business.
She took the following three years off from competing but coached both club and high school swim teams for the next three years.
“Eventually I got bored and I was like triathlons sound fun,” Mathews said. “I had never done one, so I went and hired a coach and stuck to the workouts.”
Mathews’ first triathlon was the Ironman 70.3 Oregon in Salem in July. She finished Top 10 in the 25-29 age division.
From there she started looking up races and that’s when she found one in California.
“We put together a pretty big training block, ramped up my swim a lot. Did a lot of biking and running because that’s where my weak points are,” Mathews said. “We set a goal to potentially win my age group which didn’t happen, but it was a goal.”
Mathews stays busy shifting between her new position as a part-time aquatic specialist at Salem Health to coaching triathletes privately on top of coaching for Sprague.
“Since she started coaching and training us, we’ve been improving our time on the swim thanks to her perspective,” said Ariel Gelman, who competes in triathlons as a hobby.
Mathews has one more important thing on her list: the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship in St. George, Utah, in May.
“It’s going to be pretty heavy (training),” Mathews said. “That will kind of set the tone for what the next few months after that race are going to look like.
“It will be a good indicator of where my fitness is at and what we need to do and how we are going to get there heading into August.”
Her goal is to place Top 5 in her age group at worlds.
“Eventually it would be really cool to be able to call myself a professional triathlete,” Mathews said. “We’re probably a year or two away from that.”
If you have an idea for someone we should profile for this series, email Statesman Journal senior news editor Alia Beard Rau at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edith Noriega is a sports reporter for the Statesman Journal and The Register-Guard in Eugene. You may reach her at ENoriega@salem.gannett.com and follow her on Twitter at @Noriega_Edith.