Iron Will 

A golden ticket finalizes a Utah man’s journey from couch potato to triathlete.

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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 the Masters.

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.

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