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Never Too Late

A story of two duathletes who went from couch to podium and found love along the way

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Every race has a winner. Every winner has a story. Every story has a journey.

For Kenneth and Kristina Varner, their duathlon journey has led them to the podium time and time again, but it has also led them into a new life together.

Four years ago, Kenneth was 48 and weighed over 300 pounds. Kristina, then a 44-year-old, single mother of two, was weighed down by depression and a heavy, tired body. The two did not know each other. Separately, they each began a journey toward a healthier lifestyle. Kenneth pursued running and Kristina took to cycling.

varnersA short time later, their worlds collided. As they fell in love, they looked for an activity they could do together. Duathlon was the answer. Kenneth coached Kristina on the run, and she gave him tips on the bike. In December 2012, they competed in their first race together.

Kristina entered that race feeling intimidated. The former college lacrosse player had not competed in a sporting event in years.

“You always think of triathletes and duathletes as being these elite people, and I just never thought of myself as being anywhere near the caliber of these athletes,” Kristina says.

But when she crossed the finish line that December day, Kristina was greeted by surprising news.

“You’re first,” the race director said.

“You mean I’m first in my age group?”

“No, you’re first overall.”

In Kristina’s first duathlon race, the 46-year-old went home with a gold medal for being the first female to cross the finish line. Kenneth also found himself on the podium.

“That got me hooked right away,” Kristina says.

But that was only the beginning of the Varners’ duathlon journey. In the past 18 months, the two have married and competed in 16 races together. Kristina placed first in every event her first season. She has never finished off the podium. Kenneth has earned a medal in all but one race, the 2013 USA Triathlon Duathlon Nationals. There he placed 11th.

Such accomplishments are rare, especially for two people whose daily routines included next to no physical activity just four years ago. Yet both Kenneth and Kristina are quick to admit that their duathlon journey is about much more than their top finishes. The sport of duathlon changed the Varners’ lives.

“It really has brought on a confidence for both of us that I’m not sure we ever had before,” Kenneth says. “Personally, it gave me a different perspective on what I should be doing and how I should live my life.

“I don’t look at the awards necessarily as accomplishments, even though I’m very proud of what I’ve done. For me it’s just the challenge. When I can go out and improve and do what I want to do and get the time that I want, I let the chips fall where they may. I just fully enjoy it and I enjoy challenging myself.”

Throughout this journey, the Varners’ have motivated each other to continue improving. After both reaching a level of fitness they never imagined possible, Kenneth, who runs a home inspection business, and Kristina, a sixth grade math teacher, decided they want to help other people achieve impossible goals. Six months ago, the Varners’ launched a personal training business and began leading group runs for beginners in their hometown of Port Charlotte, Florida.

“We really enjoy seeing people make progress,” Kenneth says. “We were there just recently. We were in the weight-loss mode three or four years ago. It’s a lot of fun for us to see other people make strides and get fit.”

The Varners’ also take pride in the many friends they have recruited into the multisport lifestyle. They are headed to the 2014 USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships this weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they hope to continue their streak on the podium. But they are just as excited to see some of their friends compete at the national level for the first time.

Although Kenneth and Kristina’s journey is not without challenges — injuries, middle-aged bodies and the continued battle with weight — there is no activity they would rather do, and no activity they would rather do together.

“We love [duathlon],” Kristina says. “We have so much fun doing it.”

 “Yes, until God removes me from this earth, I’ll be doing it,” he says.

Four years ago, Kenneth and Kristina never would have believed they could be where they are today. Separate journeys toward a healthier lifestyle brought them together and to the sport they now love. Duathlon has given them a new perspective on life and taught them that anything is possible. That is what they want other people to know, especially those in similar walks of life.

“Get out of your comfort zone and try something new,” Kristina says. “Because you never know what you have inside of you that you could do. I never thought I’d be able to do this. Ever. It’s pretty neat.”

“Too many people try to talk themselves out of things instead of talk themselves into things,” Kenneth says. “It is possible, and it’s never too late.”

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