Focused, determined, and with her bright little eyes staring at the gold medal, 9-year-old Greek-Italian student, Ekaterini Ioanna DeRuvo, has won the title of the youngest South Australian champion in the 700m walk event after finishing first at the state championships held at Santos Stadium last month.

“Katie surprised us all when she displayed a natural talent at speed walking. We are very proud of her for achieving her goal and winning the gold medal at a state championship level,” says Katie’s mum, Sofie Traiforos, whose family is originally from Arcadia in the Peloponnese.

“Like most parents, my husband Joe and I have been keen to help our daughter discover her passions and talents. From a young age, we encouraged her to try lots of different things, ranging from ballet, jazz, music, and various team sports but whilst she enjoyed trying different things, nothing really pulled at her heart strings until she joined Little Athletics,” the proud mum explains in an interview with Neos Kosmos.

Little Katie joined Southern Districts Little Athletics two years ago and in a short time her natural talent started shining through. She picked up the style and skill set quickly and she put in a real effort each week to beat her personal best. She was winning most club races, including those against the boys in her age group.

“The state trainer was present at one of her club races and witnessed Katie’s efforts. He approached us and explained that with proper training, she would be at a satisfactory level to compete at the championships. He also spoke to the club president and said he was amazed that a girl so young had such a great technique,” Traiforos says.

The Year Four student took on the challenge and committed herself to a strict training regime overcoming a few mishaps and minor injuries with the help of her family.

“Katie is physically small in comparison to other girls in her age group. We suspected that as a result of that, she may be at a disadvantage, so we explained to her that once she was in amongst the state’s best athletes, she may not rank high in the races.”

The young athlete developed a mindset in which she was already proud of the fact that she had made the state championships and made a promise to herself that she would give it her all and her absolute best effort in order to beat her personal best record. She even developed her own inspirational motto which she declared before each race: ‘I will leave everything on the track, and that’s the best I can do.’

On the day of the race, the family was informed that Katie would race the U9 boys and girls together. Her state coach drummed into her that during the race, she was not to lose focus if a boy was outperforming her but to rather focus on the girls.

“Katie surprised us all. She certainly left everything on the track in that race. She took the lead, including over the boys, for the entire race, bar the last second when a boy caught up. She led the girls by more than 100m, which is a huge lead in a 700m race.”

Katie finished with gold, and was only 0.5 seconds off breaking the 24-year-old state record. She now has the second best time over the last 25 years but this isn’t all for the determined little girl who will soon start training for the nationals.

Katie’s goal is to beat the state record next year and that of the nationals, but, irrespective of the outcome, one thing is certain; this young tenacious and strong-willed champion can never lose. She will either win or she will learn. In the meantime, her dedicated parents will always be there to support her along the way.