NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the vast majority of his life, Kevin Pease was anything but a world-class athlete.
A self-described “total geek” at Waterloo West High School, where he graduated in 1973, Pease grew up passing on athletic pursuits in favor of activities like singing and ham radio. To hear him tell it, even if he’d wanted to give sports a go, things would have ended badly.
“I was totally uncoordinated, would trip over my own feet,” he said. “I was the furthest thing from an athlete.”
While it’s rare for most men to see their chances at achieving sporting glory increase with age, those odds seemed particularly long for Pease, who at just 5-feet-7-inches tall eventually saw his weight balloon up to 280 pounds.
So when the competitors were announced for July’s Aquabike World Championships, which will bring athletes from 50 countries to Odense, Denmark, Pease said he wouldn’t have blamed people for assuming it a coincidence his name was on the list.
But a coincidence it is not. He is very much expecting to take part in the duathlon event, the culmination of a complete physical and mental transformation the 62-year-old has undertaken over the past five years, one that has taken even him by surprise.
“I never, ever would have dreamed of any of this,” he said. “Nor would have anyone I know. It’s a world-class event and I never would have expected to be here.”
Pease knew he had to make a change. He remembers the exact date, Sept. 1, 2012, he finally decided to take action. Following a particularly unpleasant physical, his doctor told him it was imperative he start working out or else risk irreparable damage to his health.
Admitting he’d let himself go to a dangerous degree, Pease took that advice to heart.
“On that day I made an interesting decision. I decided I was going to get back down to around where I was in high school if it killed me in the process,” he said. “I was going to go through a total body transformation and the person that came out the other side would not be the same person.”
One thing that made the transition easier was that when developing an exercise plan, Pease didn’t have to start from scratch. A cyclist growing up, he still owned an old Schwinn that had spent years gathering dust in the garage of his Nashville, Tenn., home.
In addition to biking, Pease also became a bit of a gym rat, working out two to three times daily. Further aided by an improved diet, he quickly became unrecognizable, dropping more than 100 pounds in a year’s time.
Along with the weight loss, Pease also began to notice the development of a competitive side that previously had laid dormant. Luckily, he didn’t have to look far to find an outlet for his newly developed combative juices.
To supplement his cycling, Pease began swimming at a YMCA. He hated to swim in school, but his feelings for the sport made a 180-degree shift, one that eventually took his life in a most unexpected direction.
While at the Y, Pease took notice of a fellow swimmer who was making detailed documentation of her lap times. When he asked why, she said she was training for a triathlon, a revelation that quickly piqued Pease’s interest.
“To make a long story short, I signed up for it too,” he said.
Pease took part in his first triathlon on May 16, 2015, placing fourth in the Male 60-64 age group with an overall time of 1:00.49 at the Cedars of Lebanon Triathlon in Lebanon, Tenn.
Cedars of Lebanon proved to be the first of three triathlons he took part in that year. And though he enjoyed the competition, Pease quickly found he was lacking in one key area.
“I’m not a real good runner,” he said. “I’m not built for it. And to be competitive in triathlon, you’ve got to be a really good runner.”
And while he’s still attempting to improve that aspect of his race, Pease found an outlet even better suited to his skills in 2016.
Aquabike, a duathlon event which began as a pilot program in 2005, consists of a 1.2-mile swim and a 56-mile bike ride. It provided Pease with an opportunity to compete in a race where he didn’t have a glaring weakness.
And while he expected to have some success, just how much turned out to be a surprise even to him.
After failing to arrange travel to the Penticton ITU Aquabike World Championships in Canada last August, Pease registered for the Long Course Triathlon and Aquabike National Championship in Miami on Nov. 12, where the top-18 qualifiers in each age bracket moved onto the 2018 World Championships in Denmark.
Though qualifying was his ultimate goal, Pease admits he was nervous to compete on what was, at the time, the largest stage he’d ever been on. Luckily, those nerves didn’t get the best of him, opening him up for the chance to hop on an even bigger stage in July.
Behind a swim of 1:01:42 and a ride of 3:21:15, Pease grabbed one of the qualifying sports in the 60-64 age group, coming in 17th.
“It was a very exciting and very humbling experience,” he said of the Miami race. “I’ve never gone through anything like that in my life.”
Knowing the competition will only get more intense once he gets to Odense, Pease kicked his training up several notches by enlisting the services of John Maines, an Iron Man certified coach now overseeing Pease’s intense daily workout regimen.
A triathlete himself, Maines is well aware of the time and dedication needed to succeed at a high level, and says he’s seen all the necessary qualities in Pease, which is especially impressive considering how far he’s come to get to this point.
“He’s one of my hardest workers,” Maines said. “He’s turned his life around by attacking triathlon with vigor. He never misses a workout and he’s always searching for that next step.”
Part of that next step is figuring out how pay for the trip to Denmark this summer. Aside from he and his family, Pease is hoping to bring Maines along with him and is in the process of setting up a crowdsourcing page with his daughter, April.
Regardless of how he performs in the championships, Pease’s physical strides have clearly caught the eye of his friends and family, who say he’s made good on his promise to come out of the experience a changed man.
“It just goes to show anybody, if they have the will, they can really accomplish something, even at 62 years old,” said Pease’s father Roger, who still lives in Cedar Falls. “He’s had a determination and made it work and it’s just been great to see.”
Kevin says he’s also had several people tell him he’s inspired them to improve their own diet and exercise habits, something he clearly takes pride in.
Already enjoying the thrill of inspiring others, Pease says there’s an even better way for him to do so when he gets to Denmark.
“My objective is to go for the gold,” he said. “Will I do it? Probably not. But I’m still going to give it what I’ve got. It’s an honor to compete against the best in the world, and I want to make the most of it.”
The Aquabike World Championships will run from July 6-14. PayPal users who wish to donate towards the competition can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further donation information, email Pease at email@example.com.