Kiawah's recreation director taps into nature to stay cool under pressure
Some people love nature and its beautiful array of wildlife so much that they're willing to do nearly anything to be near it.
Liz King may just be one of those people.
King, the recreation director at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, was lured to the island in 1992 after finishing up her master's degree in biology. Her brother had been studying at the then-Johnson & Wales cooking school, so she figured she'd spend two years in Charleston and go back home.
A classified ad placed by Kiawah in The Post and Courier for a seasonal naturalist job changed that plan.
Despite the fact that it was not a year-round job, King had found her place. That winter the master's degree recipient worked fixing resort bicycles, but never had her doubts.
"I didn't have second thoughts, but my parents did. I knew I was in the right spot," says King, who immersed herself in learning about local flora and fauna from then-island naturalists Jim Koenig and Whit McMillan, who is now the education director at the S.C. Aquarium.
"It was like going to college again, but getting paid for it," says King.
The next winter she worked cleaning and maintaining pools, but her perseverance would soon pay off. In 1994, she became the nature program manager at a time when that program started to grow and develop. But she also counts her blessings.
"I've been very fortunate to work for a company that sees a lot of value in this (nature programming). They see if something's successful and guests want it, they give us the ability to expand and continue to grow. We've been successful that way."
Marathons & more
King continued in the role of nature program manager until 2007 when her predecessor Dylan Jones left the recreation post. Despite the fact it would mean less time in nature and more time in the office, King applied for and got the job.
Marathons & more
"I was a little hesitant to take on the bigger role. I didn't want to lose everything about the wildlife, which is what I love, but I didn't have to, especially with (the arrival of) social media. Being forced to go and take pictures and writing about what's new (wildlife on the island) or talking about the turtle patrol and what's migrating through. It keeps me connected to it."
But it definitely has meant dividing her time more among issues with pools, bike rentals, holiday activities, and - what would daunt most people - suddenly becoming the director of the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon. At the time, it was the Charleston area's only marathon event, which originated on the Isle of Palms in 1978.
The 36th annual marathon and 34th annual half marathon will be next Saturday. For Kiawah's rec staff, it is literally an all-hands-on-deck event.
The transition between Jones and King was seamless and King, along with a dedicated staff with very similar work ethics, has not rested on the laurels of the well-organized event that draws thousands of guests to the resort at a time that otherwise would be dead.
Among their efforts in recent years has been to reduce the race's environmental impact, such as providing leftover food to local food banks and composting scraps. Some efforts, such as recycled glass medals and getting rid of age group plaques made of wood, weren't welcomed by participants.
"That ethic (satisfying guests) is what we do at Kiawah all the time. When (runners) come to Kiawah, we want them to feel like they are coming home and not just another race. It's amazing how many runners we have come back year after year after year."
With Kiawah's emphasis on hospitality at heart, King and crew continued to listened to critiques and responded accordingly, including offering deep discounts on race fees for early registration and providing a packet pick-up in downtown Charleston following the Reindeer Run the week before.
Earlier this year, the recreation department sailed into unchartered territory by hosting the first-ever Kiawah Island Golf Resort Triathlon, which was extra challenging because it fell on the heels of the typically busy summer season.
Setting the example
Jamie Rood, the manager of the Night Heron Park Nature Center and resort photographer, has worked under King for almost nine years and says King sets the example of being an unflappable professional with ease, able to shift from marathon preparations to a crisis with a pool pump or a seven-foot alligator crossing the parkway.
Setting the example
"Liz works really well under pressure and makes smart decisions under pressure ... She's always someone I've looked up to, even though I'm older," says Rood, adding that King has been a mentor to many younger staffers.
"She takes people under her wing. When she's with you, she focuses just on you and your positive qualities. She teaches you how to bring out those qualities even more."
King says the nature on Kiawah has helped her develop calm and focus.
"Early on (in my career), I remember a situation with a fox on the island eating squirrels in an area too close to guests. I was young and getting emotionally attached into the scenario. Dylan (Jones) told me to just go out on our (canoe) tour and clear your mind."
It worked. King says when she came back, her mind was clear and knew what to do.
"How many people can say, 'Let me go to work so I can clear my mind and calm down,'" she says.
Rood says King also has helped her realize that dedication to a career doesn't mean sacrificing family life. Both have two children each.
King and husband, John Rudloff, have been married 15 years and have two children, Rivers and Darby. Rivers is a freshman at James Island Charter School and Darby is a seventh-grader at Haut Gap Middle School.
King and Rudloff first met when he was a drummer in a band at a bar in Goose Creek.
Both admit that they are a bit different. Rudloff is outgoing socially, an avid golfer and a Clemson football fan. King is more reserved and would rather go camping and watch wildlife. But as a family, they actively take adventure trips.
"I remember early on we went golfing. She brought along binoculars and was watching the woods for wildlife," says Rudloff. At football games King often has her eyes diverted to the sky watching a hawk soaring in the sky, he adds.
King says Rudloff is "extremely patient" with another aspect of her life, rescuing orphaned or injured wildlife, a passion shared by their children.
"I never know what I'm coming home to," says Rudloff, a Realtor with Keller Williams. "I went into the bathroom once and there was a scooter (duck) in my tub."
Of late, orphaned opossums have been spending evenings in their bathroom.
"There are not a lot of people who would put up with that," says King. "He knows to tip-toe into the bathroom."
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.