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More Than a Sport

By Carole Steenson | June 18, 2014, 12 a.m. (ET)

When asked to write this blog for USA Triathlon I was pleasantly surprised that someone found my life interesting enough to write about. I’ll be honest, duathlon is an important part of my life, but I probably won’t find myself in Australia for a world championship anytime soon. There are some seriously fast 40- to 44-year-old women competing in July at the USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships!  I’m a pretty average wife, mother, employee and duathlete. Is it difficult to have a career that requires international travel? Sure! Do I find creative ways to balance what my family needs with my own needs? Yes! Am I any different from other working parents who strive to do the best they can with a limited amount of time? Not really. We’re all busy; we all have our struggles and our high points so I’m not going to write about the logistics of what it’s like to try to maintain balance. Instead, I’m going to tell the story of how I found a sport I truly love … and why this matters.

Carole Steenson

I’ll start out by saying that my true love is running, which eventually led me to competing in multisport events. It all started my senior year in college when I found myself in a bar telling someone we’ll call “cute guy” that I would be running Grandma’s Marathon the upcoming summer. At risk of sounding like a dirty liar I will admit that the thought of running a marathon really hadn’t entered my mind until the moment those words left my mouth and got to “cute guy’s” ears, but I can say definitively that those words changed my life. No, I never did start a relationship with the man in the bar, but I did sign up, train for and finish the marathon. I fell in love with running and that’s what mattered.

Five years and seven marathons later I found myself training with a group of men and women who all shared the same goals and interest in running. We would spend every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday together training for whatever race was next. When we calculated that time, it totaled to about 10-15 hours a week. Every Saturday, without fail, we would go out for breakfast after our long run. We talked about upcoming races, compared times, talked about injuries and developed nutrition strategies. If you’re a runner, or have ever hung out with one, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The conversation never diverts from the beloved sport! We were young, we were speedy, and our training and race times were all that mattered.

Fourteen years later, our schedules no longer allow us to run together consistently, but we still meet for breakfast. I have formed strong friendships based originally on running, but now defined by something deeper. We are there for each other through marriages, births, deaths, illness, broken bones and anything else life throws our direction. Each Saturday at the same restaurant at the same table we sit and share our lives. I fell in love with running which lead me to some of my most cherished friends and that’s what matters.

In 1995, the night before my very first marathon, my Mom called to tell me she had been diagnosed with cancer. It was treatable and after surgery and chemotherapy she was well and eventually in remission. It was during her remission that she decided that she too would like to run a marathon. We were able to train together that spring and crossed the finish line together on the exact five-year anniversary of her original diagnosis. I cherished this time with my mother, but didn’t realize how short our time together would be.  In 2007, the cancer was back and the long-term outlook grim. It was during this time that my husband and I were trying to start a family which added to the stress. By this time, I had completed 23 marathons and the Ironman Wisconsin and Ironman Florida. I no longer loved running. I was burned-out, crabby and cynical about the entire sport, but found that when the going got tough, I went running. In 2011, my Mom died and running was never more important. I remember running around one of the many beautiful lakes in Minneapolis, watching the leaves fall from the trees and crying my eyes out the entire time. At times I swear I would hear my Mom’s voice cheering me one and telling me it was OK. Through running, I had found an escape from some of the most difficult years of my life, and that is why running mattered.

Carole Steenson

It’s now 2014. My husband and I are parents to a son, Kieran (5) and a daughter, Kemper (3) — yes, Kemper is named after Olympic triathlete Hunter Kemper. My husband and I are totally geeks!  Life is busy and we are trying to set a healthy example for our kids. We are both multisport athletes which means we need to be creative and flexible with our training. Sometimes that means heading out during the warmest part of a summer day or even skipping a workout because the kids have a soccer game. 

I’m lucky that I have just enough natural speed to have qualified for the Duathlon National Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota. I probably don’t have enough natural speed to make my way to the World Championships, and I’m OK with that. For now I’m happy to be competing in St. Paul and that my family will be there to cheer me to the finish line … even if I do come in dead last. Right now, they are all that matters.

Carole Steenson lives and trains in Plymouth, Minnesota. She works full time at Medtronic Inc. as a Global Clinical Training and Education Manager. She lives with her husband of eight years (Don), son Kieran (5) and daughter Kemper (3).

For more info or to register for the race, visit the 2014 USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships event page.