Cat Graham to serve as 10K starter
Hoops standout, runner, pursuing Olympic dream with U.S. team handball
Saturday, June 28, 2014 5:00 AM
It's hard to find a more accomplished and well-traveled athlete in the Courierarea than former Southwestern basketball player Catherine Graham.
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For more information about the USA Team handball program, visit http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Team-Handball. Follow Cat Graham on social media at @kiddles11 on Twitter or at CMGraham11 on Instagram.
Graham was one of the driving forces in a Southwestern program that won a Class 2A state championship in 2002 and a runner-up finish in 2003. She went on from that to become an accomplished runner with 10 marathons - including four Bostons - and two triathlons to her credit.
Graham is currently training with USA Team Handball with her sights set on next year's Pan American games and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Graham will take a break from her training at the USA handball headquarters in Auburn, Ala., to return home next weekend for the Fourth of July and while here she will serve as the ceremonial starter of Saturday's 36th Annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10 Walk/Run.
Graham said she got her road racing start in the Courier 10K. Sure, she ran miles and miles while conditioning to play basketball for coach Donna Cheatham at Southwestern and at Illinois State where she played NCAA Division I basketball, but it was with her father, Rob Graham, that she took her first dip into road racing.
"I remember running my first 10K with him and he actually beat me," Graham, who for some time now has gone by "Cat," said. "I knew everybody in the race and they kept asking me if I could go catch my dad. I said "It's not looking good. I don't think so.'"
"He was in much better shape than I at the time," Graham said laughing.
Since then, Cat Graham - following in her father's footsteps at first and later making sure he was following in hers - got very serious about running. She immersed herself in training and the competitive side of running and made the sport not only a big part of her life but also a career.
When Graham got into running she was working in the lab at Kings' Daughter's Hospital, but as she got more serious about the sport she started looking for ways to make it a career.
"(KDH) was a great experience for me. I learned so much from that job and I love science and I was really lucky to have the job, but I think my passion for sports kind of took over," she said. "I was really big into running and it kind of took over. I was working at the hospital and thought "Hey, maybe I can get a job in this running industry - maybe in a running store and help others to reach their goals. And right now that's the job that I have along with training at Auburn."
Graham said her training led her from 10Ks to half-marathons and half-marathons to full marathons. At some point, with her knees showing the wear of years of athletics, she started looking for a way to spend more time cross training so she started building toward the triathlon - a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride followed by a 26.2 mile footrace.
"Running was that outlet that I'd missed since basketball. I like running races because it keeps me motivated," Graham said. "Triathlons, too. I fell in love with those. But after all the basketball on my body, my knees needed a break so I thought that riding my bike would help a lot and the cross training."
But even running can't replace the competitiveness of ball sports. And that's why the next phase of Graham's athletic life will be devoted to playing team handball for the United States.
A friend and co-worker from Louisville who had moved to Alabama - Auburn University serves as the residency training site for the USA men's and women's handball teams - mentioned the sport to Graham and that the team was holding tryouts. That ignited Graham's interest.
"I said that's so cool because I've always wanted to play," Graham said. "My dad had told me that I'd love this sport and he was right."
Although not widely popular in the U.S., team handball is second only to soccer in Europe and the rest of the world warmed up to the fast-paced, high-scoring physical game long ago.
"It's very cool. Lots of scoring. It's everything I love," Graham said. "It's not very popular in the U.S. yet but hopefully that will change. I think in general, Americans will love this sport. Anybody I know who has watched it has fallen in love with it."
About 20 women are training at Auburn with a goal of doing well enough in the 2015 Pan American Games to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Graham has already traveled to play matches in Puerto Rico and Brazil, and the team will go to Europe in August and Mexico in October.
The training is long and demanding but Graham said everybody on the team is committed to reaching the program's goal.
"I've always dreamed of going to the Olympics and this is my chance," Graham said. "I'm only going to be at this until 2016, so I'm going to try to make the most of it."
But for now, Graham will be back in Indiana to celebrate Independence Day with her family, serve as the Courier 10K starter and root her father and family members on in a race that is a family affair.
"I love the Courier 10K for that reason. Everybody is home for the Fourth of July and you see people you haven't seen in a long time and the families are all out there doing it," Graham said. "It's a lot of fun.
"I feel really honored to even be considered for the starter. For me this race is one I look forward to. So being considered as a starter for it is special to me definitely. You know you're going to see a lot of people you haven't seen in a long time, so I'm really honored."The 36th annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10K Walk/Run is Saturday, July 5 with both events beginning at 8 a.m.
Registration costs $10 for the non-competitive walk and $20 for the competitive run through today with the cost increasing to $15 for the walk and $25 for the run after that. Cost includes a commemorative T-shirt and an information packet. Custom-made awards will be presented to the top finishers in all 10K Run divisions as well as to the top male and female finisher.
Check-in begins at 6:30 a.m. on race day at Madison Consolidated High School, 743 Clifty Drive. The event concludes at Lytle Park in downtown Madison.
Entry forms are available at www.madisoncourier.com.