Meet Hunter Kemper: 4 x Olympian, 7 x National Champion, 3 x Dad
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
I want to introduce you to some awesome Moms and Dads as I write these letters to you. I’m doing my best to balance being a husband to your mom, a good dad to you kids, and an athlete, but there are some amazing people in the world who are doing these things too. I think it’s important for you to meet them.
Hunter Kemper is the most decorated American short course triathlete in history, having just qualified for his 4th Olympic games. A gold medal at the Pan Am games and 7 US National titles are also among his credits. In 2007 Hunter graced the front of the iconic Wheaties box, being recognized as one of the greatest athletes in the world.
His recent qualification for the London games may be his most impressive of the 4 Olympic qualifying runs. Hunter battled career threatening injuries and set-backs along the way to London. He suffered a severe elbow injury in a bike crash in October 2011. Before he could resume training he endured numerous surgeries and infections. Many in the triathlon world doubted that we would ever see Hunter Kemper race again.
But through his faith and perseverance Hunter came back and surprised almost everyone by qualifying yet again for the Olympics. He surprised almost everyone, because Hunter and Val Kemper never stopped believing.
All of these things are great, but the things that have fascinated me about Hunter over the years were his dedication to his growing family and his faith. I recently had an opportunity to talk with Hunter about how he manages to balance a marriage, 3 kids, and remaining one of the world’s best triathletes.
1. How long have you and Val been married?
Hunter: Val and I actually celebrated our 9th anniversary last week on June 14th.
2. How did you two meet?
Hunter: Val and I met while we were both training for the 2000 Olympics at the Olympic Training Center, me in triathlon and Val was on the National Volleyball Team. Mark and Peggy Henjum were a couple in town that often held FAC’s (Friday Afternoon Club’s). A group of athletes from the OTC would gather at their house and Peggy would fix a large meal for everyone and then we’d play games and socialize afterwards. Val and I officially met for the first time at an FAC. It was quite ironic because the day we had our first date was actually the same day that Val was cut from the Olympic Volleyball Team. We always say that God kept her in Colorado just long enough so that we could meet and begin a relationship.
3. What part does your wife play in your success as an athlete?
Hunter: Val plays a huge role in my success. She takes on more responsibility with the kids and allows me to really focus on my training during crucial training blocks. She helps me get my nutrition right by preparing meals that help in aiding my recovery. She arranges all my travel, which is a huge deal because booking travel can consume a lot of time when figuring out all the logistics. She is my sports psychologist when I’m having a tough time during my hard training days. Let’s review: she is super mom, great cook, travel agent, and sports psych.
4. The time commitment it takes to excel in triathlon is often a source of
stress for a lot of couples. How do you two deal with the time commitment and
discipline it requires to compete at the pro level?
Hunter: I think it’s very helpful that Val was an elite athlete herself. She knows what it takes to be successful at a high level in sport. She understands that my job is not normal.
Now that we have three kids, our date nights are a little less frequent. However, we do try to set some time aside and get a babysitter so that we can go out for dinner and spend some time with just the two of us.
5. Tell us about your kids.
Hunter: We have three boys. Davis is 5 and will be going into kindergarten this fall, Hudson will be two in another couple weeks, and Case is 6 months old. Our priorities definitely had to change a little when we had Davis. Although with just one kid, Val and Davis managed to travel to quite a few of my races. Now that there are three, I tend to go solo to most of my races since traveling isn’t as easy or cheap with a family of 5. Davis is the only one that is old enough to play sports. His favorite sport right now is baseball. He will spend hours and hours throwing the ball onto the roof and catching it or tossing the ball to himself and hitting it. We love to go to the Colorado Sky Sox (Triple A) games together and occasionally treat ourselves to watch the Rockies up in Denver. Davis hasn’t done a triathlon yet, but he would like to. He has the bike and run down, maybe just a little more experience with the swim.
6. What measures do you take to keep family time your top priority amid all
of the training and travel?
Hunter: In a way, I feel like my job lends to actually more family time than possibly if I did have a “9-5” kind of job. I am around a lot during the day in between my workouts. I can eat lunch with the kids, play a little catch, and then go off for a bike ride. Training is typically done before 5:00 so that we can sit down as a family and eat dinner together. When I am on the road, we always like to skype so that I’m not only talking to the kids but they can also see where daddy is and talk to him in person.
7. Do Val and the kids travel with you to races?
Hunter: Val and the kids will travel with me to a couple big races a year, and it usually coincides with a race that either my parents are at or Val’s parents are at. It’s nice to have some help from the grandparents and it gives them another good excuse to come see me race because I know they really want to see the kids. I’m really excited because Davis, our oldest, will be traveling over to London to watch me compete. He loves to watch me race and I think he’s old enough now to actually have some memories from this Olympic experience.
8. Is that stressful or has your family learned to enjoy the journey?
Hunter: I actually love having my family with me at races. When I do well at a race, it’s always more special to have the people closest to you there to enjoy it with. And if a race doesn’t go very well, it is equally nice to have them there to help me keep things in perspective.
9. Does your family play a role in your race selection?
Hunter: To a certain degree. After the Olympics this year, I hope to do a lot more domestic racing so that when I am traveling, my time away will be short.
10. You’re outspoken about your Faith. Can you share with me how your Faith sustained you through the last few years of challenging circumstances?
Hunter: I don’t think I would have made it through some of my injuries and the challenges that I’ve faced without my faith and through the strength that I’ve received from God. Knowing that God is in control gives me a sense of peace in all circumstances.
11. What advice do you have for people who find themselves facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their lives?
Hunter: I always trust that God has a plan for me. Even in the midst of hardships and struggles, I know that He will get me through and something good will eventually come out of it. I believe that all things happen for a reason.
12. Away from triathlon what does your family do for fun?
Hunter: We go to parks, have picnics, hang out with friends, go to baseball games, enjoy movie nights.
13. You have to eat a clean diet most of the year. Does your family follow
your diet as well or do they do their own thing part of the time?
Hunter: I may not be a “typical” triathlete when it comes to what I eat. However, I do eat a very well balanced diet so my family typically eats what I eat. I try to eat high protein, low fat, with lots of fresh fruits and veggies.
14. What life lessons do you hope your kids take away from your career as a
Hunter: Dream big and always work hard to achieve your goals. It is important to work hard and stay disciplined in life, but most importantly it’s important to keep things in perspective. God first, family and others next, and then everything else fall somewhere below those priorities.
15. What do you hope your kids will remember about growing up with a pro
triathlete as their dad?
Hunter: I hope that that they remember that I will always be there for them. Because of my profession, I hope they remember all the time that we are able to spend together. I hope they always know that they are more important to me than any kind of award, medal, or achievement will ever be.
16. Favorite “family movie?”
Hunter: “Horton Hears a Who”
17. Your kids favorite race destination?
Hunter: Hy-Vee Triathlon in Des Moines, IA on Labor Day weekend.
18. What is your typical prerace meal? Junk food indulgence?
Hunter: Pizza is my prerace meal, and my junk food indulgence would be a Super Big Gulp Mountain Dew
19. Three people you’d love to hang out with for a day?
Hunter: Jesus, George Washington, and Albert Pujols
21. Favorite band/artist?
Hunter: O.A.R. and Jeremy Camp
22. Favorite sports team?
Hunter: Anything Wake Forest and Colorado Rockies
23. One song that gets you fired up to race?
Hunter: “We are Champions” by O.A.R. and B.O.B.
24. You got started early in triathlon and won several Iron Kids National Championships. How important is it for kids to get started early in this sport?
Hunter: It’s not necessarily that important for kids to start triathlons at an early age, but it IS important to start swimming early.
25. Final word of advice for average age groupers with limited time who are
juggling family, triathlon, and a full time job…what’s the most important
thing that we do to progress as triathletes without taking away from our
Hunter: Try to do workouts at home, indoor trainer rides, incorporate your kids into what you do. For example, start your bike ride with them or go for a point to point run and finish at a park they are at so that you can play with them right away. Train when your kids are in bed, before they are up in the morning or after they are in bed at night. Or get out and do some training during your lunch break. It is important that your kids always know that they are your priority. Don’t put your workouts in front of being dad or mom to your kids.