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Outside the Law: Catherine Smith and Triathlons

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Catherine Smith has been on the faculty of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law since 2004. She teaches torts, employment discrimination, family law, and sexuality, gender and the law. Her research interests include civil rights law and critical race theory. From 2000-2004, She was an assistant professor at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Prior to academia, Catherine clerked for the late Chief Judge Henry A. Politz of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and for U.S. Magistrate Judge William M. Catoe Jr. She also served as a fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Colorado LGBT Bar Association recently awarded Catherine the 2019 Lawyer of the Year.

Catherine spends her free time racing triathlons. She describes herself as a “casual triathlete” because she is not focused on winning, but on getting out on the course, having fun and enjoying the beautiful scenery. She has done tris in a variety of locations but takes advantage of the many events in Colorado. She incorporates training into her life as her schedule allows and her biggest influences are her partner and friends that train with her. She is a member of the Black Triathletes Facebook group; whose members are very supportive and offer great advice. She is also inspired by the many women over 70 that do triathlons. “They are rock stars.” She loves the tri community and respects the amazing physical condition that some of the competitive triathletes are in.

Catherine began competing sports in high school and played college volleyball. It was hard for her to find a way to replicate the physical training of competitive sports after college graduation, so she started to run shorter distances. She eventually worked her way up to marathons, 26.2 miles, but decided the distance was rough on her limbs and a bit monotonous. Instead, she picked up sprint triathlons for the reduced impact and added variety. Sprint triathlons consist of a .5- mile swim, 12 to 16- mile bike, and 3.1- mile run. Now, she tries to stay in good enough shape to do a sprint distance at any time, although it is more difficult to do so during the winter. Someday, she hopes to do a half “Iron (wo)Man.” A Half Iron Man, for those who aren’t familiar, consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run.

Her proudest moment so far is completing her longest triathlon to date, the Olympic distance. Olympic distance is a 1-mile swim, 25-mile bike and 6.2-mile run. She has a love-hate relationship with the swim section of triathlons and finds the 1-mile swim especially challenging. Even though she has swam the distance with ease hundreds of times in the pool, “the open water swim is always a lesson in managing my fear. This moment of panic, it is not rational. . . it is a pure mental struggle with myself.”

Catherine says that fear is an emotion designed to protect you from harm, but it can also hold you back from achieving your goals. “…I take that lesson with me into both my professional and personal life. It is always a good reminder that if there is something that I cannot do or do not want to do because of fear, I must push through that emotion, believe in myself and go for that goal. It does not mean that as I takes steps toward the goal, that the fear is gone, it means that if it is still present, I must manage it, like I do in the swim (get to the lake early and swim a few laps, breathe deeply, get a rhythm, assume the person ahead of me is stopping because they are tired, not because they saw Jaws. . .).”


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