Kevin Balfe was at his
parents’ house in
mid-April when he
announced, quite giddily,
that he had won the lottery.
Family thought the
37-year-old was instantly
wealthy. In Balfe’s own mind,
that was the case—just not in
that money-grubbing, “Texas
tea” way. In fact, this victory
was going to cost him cash.
All he did was—through a
random drawing—earn the
right to pay for himself to go
to Hawaii for the Ironman
Triathlon in October.
“Honestly, I told them
this was even better than winning that
other kind of lottery,” Balfe said.
Balfe was one of three Utahns—all from
Salt Lake County—who paid between $35
(one bid) and $85 (two chances) for a shot
at winning one of the 150 American slots.
There were 7,000 entries from dedicated
folks who have shown a proclivity at biking,
cycling and swimming long distances,
and had met cutoff times.
If it sounds exhausting … well, it is.
The Ford Ironman World Championship—
the “Super Bowl” of the Ironman series
that extends around the United States—is
70.3 miles of calorie-burning, dehydrating
challenge. There’s a 1.2-mile swim, 56
miles on two wheels and a half-marathon
(13.1 miles). Balfe, who lives in Draper, will
be joined by Salt Lake City’s Andi Jones and
Riverton’s David Pruetz.
What makes Balfe’s situation particularly
interesting is that he’s basically one of
us—Joe Salt Lake, he insists. He was sitting
on a couch a decade ago, a little overweight
and not particularly interested in doing
anything about it, when he caught sight of
the Ironman on TV. He told his wife, Marcy,
he was going to do that someday. “She just
laughed at me,” Balfe recalled.
That situation replayed itself a week later when he saw a triathlon on the tube and was still hunkered down on a La-Z-Boy. “My wife just scoffed again, said there I was, sitting on the couch still,” Balfe said. “So, that was it. I got up, put on some clothes and started training. I didn’t last too long. But, the point was, I started somewhere.”
The seminary teacher at Skyline High
says he trains between 15 and 20 hours
a week. But the father of three children
younger than 11 says he’s prouder of the discipline
he has to not let it get in the way of
family time. He’s up at 3:59 a.m. every day—“It just sounds cooler to me than 4 a.m.”—and will often go on a quick run with his
10-year-old son. On Saturdays, his two little
daughters will help prepare his ice bath.
Triathletes tend to gush about their support groups, and Balfe is no different, especially about his wife. The only small gripe was that she wouldn’t let him bring the bike to Southern California during a recent vacation.
Balfe still finds it amazing that he went
from zero activity to full-bore but concedes
that’s nothing new in his athletic world. “I
think people that are drawn to triathlons feel
like it’s an amazing event the first time they
see it,” Balfe said. “You push yourself in every
aspect—physically, mentally, emotionally.”
What did it earn him? A chance to save
a lot of cash and pay for a chance at seeing
if he could survive, which would be like a
city-course hacker sweeping up a bid into
Balfe’s golden ticket came on April 15. He
also completed an Ironman event in Boise,
Idaho, an obligation to seal up his path to paradise.
“You have to simply finish an Ironman
event after the lottery to secure your spot,”
Balfe said. “Then the Ironman people basically
say, ‘You’re welcome as long as you can
get here and do it on your own dime.’”
Balfe said he’s talked a bunch of friends
and colleagues into heavy training since
he rose from the sofa. “To see if you can do
those different athletic feats, some that you
may not have done much of before, there’s a
real sense of accomplishment,” he said.