Nineteen-year-old race walker Katie Hayward is on her way to being one of the youngest athletes ever to represent Australia in track and field at the Olympic level.
The Gold Coast teen, who has been race walking since she was nine, said the sport was a part of her life that she couldn’t live without.
“You never really know how many years you have in the sport,” Hayward said.
“So you might as well take everything you can get, and go and do it,” she said.
The enthusiastic teen walked away with the gold medal for race walking at last month’s World University Games in Italy, and said winning the medal was like nothing she had experienced before.
“It has been a very exciting couple of months, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Hayward said.
“Being given the opportunity to do what I love while experiencing all these beautiful countries and people is amazing,” she said.
Earlier in the year Hayward dominated the Australian Open National Titles, claiming the gold in both the 10km event and 20km race walking event, breaking previous records.
Now Hayward has her sights set on the 2020 Olympic Games.
“As a young athlete I never really saw the Olympic Games as something I would be able to achieve,” Hayward said.
“[I thought] like, wow you have to be amazing to go there, I’m not that,” she said.
“I think once you start getting more experience and a little bit better in the sport, it started to click that maybe I actually have a chance.”
Earlier this year Hayward set herself the goal of representing Australia at the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“The Olympic Games are definitely on the table,” she said.
“I have done two qualifiers for the Olympics already.”
“Now it’s just about keeping healthy and happy, and hopefully I can get there next year,” Hayward said.
All that’s required from Hayward now is to maintain her training requirements until the Australian team selections in February.
“I just have to continue what I am doing and qualifying for races,” she said.
“It’s hard when you are walking 20km, because you can’t do that every weekend.”
“It takes a lot out of you, so you have to give your body a break.”
“Now it’s all about choosing my races carefully and [being] smart.”
Race walking certainly isn’t as effortless and easy as it may sound; years of hard work and dedication has gone into getting where Hayward is today.
“For walking you have to keep your style together the entire way, otherwise you’re going to get disqualified, which isn’t fun,” she said.
Hayward has a background in athletics, so the transition into race walking was not something that challenged the teen.
“Before I started race walking, I did running.”
“It was kind of an easy transition because I already had that fitness base,” she said.
Hayward picked up the technique with ease, and her talent was noticed.
“I remember picking it [race walking] up so easily,” she said.
“I just took off and won my first ever race.”
“After that race this man came over to me and invited me to race clinics on a Wednesday, he said ‘we will see where you go from there’.”
Little did Hayward know that man would be coaching her for many years to come.
“He [Steve Langley] has been my coach since,” she said.
The majority of Hayward’s time is spent on her training, which she does up to 12 times per week.
“There is a lot of recovery required, so you have to manage your time really well,” she said.
“I do have either Saturday or Sunday as a complete rest day, where I try to do no training at all.”
On top of her walking training, Hayward is required to complete three gym sessions per week to build and maintain her strength.
“I usually do two big gym sessions and one core and maintenance session a week,” she said.
“It’s all about being smart with my training and the loads that my coach gives me,” Hayward explained.
Hayward’s race walking career was slowed down four years ago when she had a stress fracture in her left tibia.
The determined teen wasn’t going to use the injury as an excuse to give up, and became more mindful with her training to get herself back on track.
“I was out of full training for eight months,” Hayward said.
“I did heaps of swimming training and stationary bike riding, things that would get my heart rate going, but not use my ankle,” she said.
“I remember being so determined and dedicated in those eight months.”
“I think it really showed that this [race walking] is what I want to do, because it’s what I love to do.”
Hayward utilises the small amount of free time she has studying a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy at Griffith University on the Gold Coast.
“The Griffith Sports College has allowed me to study while maintaining my training,” she said.
“They [the Griffith Sports College] help me when I need extensions on upcoming assignments and exams,” Hayward added.
Hayward said she couldn’t nail down a specific proudest moment of her career, highlighting the few that have stood out to her during her time in race walking.
“This year [it] would have to be winning the World University Games which was massive,” Hayward said.
“Standing on that podium, getting the medal and seeing everyone that has helped you get there in the crowd cheering for you was an amazing moment,” she said.
“I shocked a lot of people winning that which I love,” Hayward said.
Hayward said she wouldn’t be where she is today without her incredible support system walking behind her every step of the way.
“My mum has been my biggest support mentally,” she said.
“You do have those days where you don’t like it [race walking] and she [Katie’s mum] has always been there saying ‘I will support you if you do want to do it and I will support you if you don’t want to do it, but I’m always here’.”
Hayward said her father was also supportive of her race walking career.
“My dad loves taking me to my races and seeing me happy and competing.”
“People say athletics is a very individual sport, which it is, but it takes a team as well behind you supporting you,” Hayward said.
Hayward puts her achievements down to years of hard work and determination.
“I takes a lot of time,” Hayward said.
“I think the general public don’t really see what goes on behind closed doors.”
“A lot of days, a lot of mornings, and constant training has gone into where I am today.”
“Hard work, dedication and passion as well.”
“I always try to go into training with the right attitude.”
Hayward said studying occupational therapy had really made her realise how lucky she is.
“Lucky that I’m healthy, that I have two arms and two legs, and [that] I’m not sick,” she said.
“I’m doing a lot better than other people in the world, so I should take this opportunity and go for it.”
Hayward’s next challenge will be the 2019 World Athletic Championships in Doha at the end of September.