Q&A with Kathleen King, outgoing co-director of Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series

Kathleen King (center) talks at last year's Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series Championship last year as Paul King, long-time participant Anne Boone, and children Skylar and Amelia listen. David Quick/Staff

After 24 years of organizing and directing the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series, Paul and Kathleen King will step down after Sunday's finale. They will hand the reigns of the event entirely over to the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission.

Series co-race director Kathleen King answered the following questions about life organizing Charleston's most enduring triathlon.

Q: You and Paul (King) have known that your last Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series has been coming for a few years. Now that it's here - what are your thoughts?

A: At first, I thought that I would be so ready to let go and go on to other adventures during the summer but as the time comes, it is a bittersweet feeling. Physically it is challenging to put on a triathlon with the thousands of details and the stress of getting all the moving parts to move together but it is also very rewarding.

Q: From what I've witnessed and heard, lots of CSTS veterans have been expressing their appreciation for your work over the last 24 years during this summer's triathlon events. Has that been the case and has it surprised you a bit?

A: This has been very touching to me and yes, rather surprising. People I didn't even know have come up to thank us for our efforts and share an anecdote about their favorite tri. There are so many friends that we have made over the years from young people who have gone on to develop their lives and return to say how much it means to them that they could do a triathlon when they didn't know they had it in them.

There are the people who have consistently done the event for years and we know of many of the peaks and valleys in our lives together from the birth of their grandchildren to fighting cancer. These are often extraordinary people who I may not have had the opportunity to get to know without this event.

People who take on the physical challenge of doing triathlons often have high achieving lives: pilots, doctors of all sorts, teachers, lawyers, engineers, physical and occupational therapists, journalists, veterinarians, leaders in industry and too many other careers to mention.

Q: Why did you decide to hang it up and what are your plans for the future?

A: As Paul and I are getting older, we knew we had to have a plan to keep the race going when we were not longer able to do so. We believe that the getting a strong institution behind the event is the best way to keep it going. CCPRC has the resources and the know-how to keep it going as well as a mission to promote fitness in our area.

I am an educator and will retire from that in the next two to four years. I may have up to 40 years in the field when I finish this career. Except for the 19 years I was a Special Education Administrator, teacher coach and literacy specialist, I have been in the classroom. While teachers never actually get the summer off, our schedule does lighten so that there is more time to put on triathlons.

Q: What was the genesis of the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series and how long did it take to start?

A: We would travel all over the Southeast to do triathlons but there were none in our area so Paul decided to create one. The first year we had volunteers but soon it became clear that most triathletes like to do triathlons and not put in fence posts to make finish chutes, so we had a few challenges.

Q: Was it always a "family affair"? And tell me the different roles each family member played?

A : Paul always did most of the logistics, planning and promoting. I did registration and later managed the transition areas. Amelia was a 7 months old when the first triathlon occurred. Skylar came two summers later and they came to every event most of the time with a babysitter for the first few years.

As soon as they were old enough, they got the job of giving out water and that kept them busy. The Boy Scout troop 88, especially Annie Lee, helped to take care of them when I was running around. So both kids worked the tri from as soon as they could remember what their job was.

Amelia started helping with registration when she was about 13 and took over the job of Business Manager for Red Wolf Production when she was 15. She was good with computers and did follow up on details well.

Skylar set up the swim course including swimming the buoys into the place for several years before the park gave us kayaks to use. He would swim to the designated spot with a cement block in his hand and drop it in place and swim back for the next one. Yes, I was certainly glad that he was a strong swimmer and on our neighborhood swim team.

Skylar and Paul would do this on Fridays when I wasn't at the park and it was a few years before I found out that he was swimming with cement blocks. Skylar worked up until he was 20 when he spent his first summer in Barcelona.

The first two years I would do registration in my swimming suit so that I could close registration and run to the swim start to do the triathlon myself. I was the Series Champion for the first year for my age group. Soon the demands of keeping the race going became too great for me to actually compete. Every few years I would get someone to cover my jobs and compete but it was really just to see if I could still do it and to see what the course looked like.

Q: What were the weekends of a triathlon like?

A: Very long hours on Friday and Saturday. Every inch of the downstairs of our house was covered in signs, tee shirts and lists of all sorts. Before everyone had the internet to get information from, people would call for the house.

Sometimes we would have as many calls as participants during the week before the race. Sunday would start at 4:30 AM and we would try to get home by noon. Then a nap would be called for....thank goodness both kids knew how to nap.

Q: What do you imagine will be some of the biggest memories, generally and specifically, you'll take from the series?

A: I loved getting to the park in total darkness and seeing the place come to life with hundreds of triathletes and all their gear just as the sun was getting up. There is always an excitement about the day and the event.

Also I have loved to see the development of women in the sport. I am always excited to see so many women of all ages and sizes compete in our race. We started with one small women's wave and now there are three large groups at every event. There are women who are world class athletes as well as women who have never done an athletic event in their entire lives. The pride in accomplishment of a triathlon is always there.

I also loved when the spectators and participants all come together and stay for the awards ceremony. Often there are late finishers that everyone takes a moment to cheer for their accomplishment of completing a triathlon.

Q: Are there any specific triathlons, or performances, or people, that really stand out in your mind?

A: The very young people like the Golbus girls who started when they were about 10 years old.

I also will always have a special place in my heart for Neil Jacobs who just keeps coming back from fighting cancer. Whenever I am weak in spirit, I think of him.

Thomas Sessions is also an inspiration to everyone who has seen him compete. I also totally love Anne Boone who is a model for all women over 40.

Caroline Sinkler is a beast on the bike. I was very excited to coax my 30 year old bike up to 19 miles per hour on a race this year when she came by so fast, I thought I might be in another time zone.

One of the special snap shots in my mind is when Bill Boulter jumps up and runs to get his award at the age of 81 (he's actually 84), while the rest of us are slowly prodding our stiff muscles into action.

Q: Do you have any plans to celebrate after the last tri on Sunday?

A: I go to work on Monday. CCSD schools/ Laing Middle School of Science and Technology needs me!

- David Quick