Hunter Kemper: On Being Positive and Present
Hunter Kemper joins the ProForm blog—sharing his Olympic training strategy, how he finds balance in life, and what the sport of triathlon can offer America’s youth. Read this exclusive ProForm interview to find out just what it takes to be a four-time U.S. Olympian and what makes qualifying for Rio 2016 the chance of a lifetime.
• Most Decorated U.S. Triathlete
• Four-time Olympian – 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012
• Seven-time U.S. National Champion
• World Ranked #1, 2005-2006
• 2013 Chicago Triathlon Winner
• 2013 Hy-Vee IronKids Midwest Series Official Ambassador
• Born May 4, 1976
• Hometown: Orlando, FL
• Lives in Colorado Springs, CO
• Married to Val, former U.S. National Volleyball team member
• Father of four – Davis (6), Hudson (3), Case (2), Price (7 days old)
“I believe that is what my story is all about — persistence.”
The sport of triathlon is growing quickly. People are looking for goals—fitness goals. They ultimately want an end result, whether that is to lose weight, get healthy, or get fit. They think, “Let’s do it with a race.” There are 5k and 10k running races to work towards, maybe even a marathon. Running is huge. The sport of triathlon is dynamic and unique because it contains three sports in one, swimming, biking, and running. This new goal of doing a triathlon is exciting for people and they want to give it a try.
Triathlon is a fairly new sport. Its popularity picked up in the 2000s with the Sydney, Australia Olympic Games. One reason triathlon is growing is that it is much lower impact than many other fitness goals. Swimming and biking are easier on your body than running. Triathlon is a lifestyle sport that people can do at any age.
The different triathlon distances are Sprint, Olympic, Half-Ironman, and Ironman. When people finish a race they feel like they have accomplished something, it boosts their self esteem. It’s a journey where people can set goals, work to achieve those goals, and feel a sense of accomplishment.
As a kid I always had the dream of competing in the Olympic Games and representing my country. In 1986, I won my first triathlon at the age of ten and went on to win my first Ironkid’s National Championship. I fell in love with the sport from that day on.
It was announced that triathlon would become an Olympic sport in 1995 while I was in college at Wake Forest University and I thought, “This is my ticket to making a U.S. Olympic Games team.” I made that Olympic goal a reality in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics and fell in love with the Olympic Games. I finished 17th in Sydney and was the top American. I’ve finished as the top American at all four of my Olympic Games.
“To be truly successful you have to have incredible work ethic, drive, and determination. You can’t be even a little lazy.”
I love cheering on my fellow American athletes when competing at the Olympic Games. My goal has always been to win a medal and I’ve tried my best at every one to achieve that. However, triathlon is a one shot deal, so it’s very difficult. So much time is put into training and it comes down to one day, one event. I’m one of only two men in the world that has been able to compete at all four Olympic Games (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012) in the sport of triathlon. I’ll make history if I make it to my fifth Olympics at the young age of 39 years old. I believe that is what my story is all about — persistence. The idea of never giving up and that age is only a number. There are always new things to learn about training, about how to recover, about how to improve and I always enjoy the process in my quest for the pursuit of excellence.
It is important to know what your goals are and to constantly visualize them. Write your goals down. In order to reach your goals, you will need to set a series of process goals in order to get there. Process goals are the small achievements that are put in place, to make sure that the bigger outcome goal is achieved.
When setting goals, encourage others to join you. For example, get a group of friends together and take a spin class together. Hold each other accountable. Training is more fun when you do it with others. When you reach the highest mountaintop by yourself, it’s rewarding; however, it’s a whole lot better when you have others to celebrate with after you complete a triathlon you never thought possible.
One key to my success is being consistent. I never stop pursuing my goals. I love being a professional athlete and I appreciate it more and more the longer I compete. I have down days, weeks, or even months like when I broke my elbow and then had a serious staph infection after my surgery. However, it was important that I kept moving forward. I always surround myself with people who believe in me and encourage me.
It’s also important that I have balance in my life. I find balance by relying on my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in all that I do. I also find balance in my life when I spend time with my family. I love bringing my family with me when I compete. It’s great to have them at my races. They are my sense of balance. Whether I finish first or 41st, they are always there for me. Being a husband and father is much more important to me than what happens on the race course.
It’s a great question, and it’s something that will be on my mind for the next few years until Rio 2016. It’s a constant juggling act to have your swim, bike, and run going well at the same time. It’s great to be in that sweet spot when you are at your best in all three sports, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes your bike and run are on fire, but your swim is off.
As our sport continues to get faster and faster, it’s very difficult to continue to be the best in the world for a long period of time. I will be focusing on my swim and run speed—two of the most important parts to success in Olympic draft-legal racing. The run speed that I have gained over the past few years will be important for me to maintain. I also need to be constantly working on improving my swim start speed. As an elite athlete it’s important to identify what your weaknesses are and constantly work on turning them into strengths. I’m excited about the opportunity to once again represent my country at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
I think the best athletes definitely have talent. They are born with it. God gave me talent for endurance, but you have to have more than that. To be truly successful you have to have incredible work ethic, drive, and determination. It’s the will to win—the pursuit of excellence—that gets you to the top. You can’t be even a little lazy. I am all the way committed in trying to be the best.
The older you are, the smarter you have to be. I take care of my body more and understand it better. It’s great when you can have balance in life. I have four kids, three boys ages 6, 3, and 2 and a new baby girl born on November 13th. I love the sport of triathlon and I want to be the best. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is more important to me that I’m the best father and husband I can be to my family. First comes my faith, then my family, and finally my love for triathlon.
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
I draw my strength from Christ and try to focus on Him instead of thinking that I can do it all on my own.
In the race, I also think about the process of what I am doing. In the difficult times, you’ve got to be present in the race. So many times athletes think negative thoughts. It’s an hour and 50 minutes of racing for me when competing in an Olympic distance triathlon (.93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike, 6.2 mile run). For example, getting pushed down beneath the water when you are swimming in the open water can be difficult and scary sometimes. It’s important to try and relax. The mind can be very powerful and it’s never helpful when negative self-talk takes over your thoughts. I work hard to be positive and present in all my races.
I would love to have another run at one more Olympic Games. I’m getting older as a pro and I’m training really hard to go back for my 5th Olympics. I feel very blessed to be able to train and race triathlons for a living. I try to appreciate every day that I’m able to call myself a professional athlete.
My future goals are to one day run my own kids triathlon race series and manage events across the country. I love getting kids involved in a sport, like triathlon, that they might not normally think about ever doing. It’s important to give kids a feeling of self worth and to help them feel the accomplishment of finishing the race.
When I grew up I was always the kid who said, “There’s only one winner. And it’s going to be me.” Now I’m looking at it from the other side working with the Hy-Vee IronKids Tri Series. I love to see all the kids’ expressions as they cross the finish line. Maybe they aren’t the first kids chosen on the playground, but for many, our sport isn’t about that. It’s about giving it a try. T-R-Y not T-R-I. Kids can tell their friends, “I just did this cool sport called a triathlon.”
“What’s important to me is being respectful, courteous, and kind even when you don’t have time.”
We have a big problem today in our country with kids being too sedentary. Too many kids play video games, are glued to their phones, and are stuck in their house all day. They need to get outside and maybe even set a goal of at least 60 minutes of activity a day. I look forward to promoting health and wellness in a fun way amongst our youth through the sport of triathlon.
The best piece of advice my Dad ever gave me was to always treat others how you would like to be treated. What’s important to me is being respectful, courteous, and kind even when you don’t have time. It’s about being a good person no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or where you come from. It’s the whole “pass it on” mentality. Open that door for a friend or a stranger; they will do the same for others. Pass that advice on to your kids and they will grow up as strong men and women who are kind, courteous, and respectful to others.
As told to Erica Colvin, ProForm writer.