Kevin Petty – Two Time USA Triathon National Challenge Competition Winner and Friend

Here is a great interview with a very good friend and mentor, to me and many others. Kevin Petty is always open to help others and he trains hard. Kevin has won the USA Triathlon National Challenge Competition (USAT NCC) the last two years. In 2014-2015 USAT NCC he set the distance record for the three-month competition.

When and where were you born?

I was born on 22 July, 1962, in Heidelberg, West Germany.  There were Two Germanys at the time.  My Parents, Norman Jean and Isaac H. Petty Sr. were very hard working, and when people ask me about my crazy work ethic, I just point to my mom and dad. 

What sports and position did you play in school?

I went to Stonewall Jackson High in Charleston, WV.  And while there I played Football (Running Back/Linebacker), Baseball (Outfielder, but mostly Bench Rider), and ran track.  100/200 Meters and 100M x 4 and 200M x 4 Relays.  My highest post season honor in Football was Honorable Mention All-America; For Baseball, and I still wonder why, I got picked up for the All State All-Star Baseball Game in which my team won.  That was very cool!  I made it to the State Track Meet in the 200 Meter Dash, but I got smoked in the first heat and didn’t qualify for the finals. 

Where did you go to College?

The United States Military Academy at West Point:  I went to West Point for two years, but the combination of not being very smart and quitting school while still in school didn’t bode well for continuing at the Academy.  For a good week I was prepared to submit my resignation, and I simply was just ‘there’.  Didn’t study, failed a whole bunch of critical tests with grades so low that I would have had to Ace every test the remainder of the semester just to pass some courses. In short, I was done.  Word got to my Football coach what I was doing, and he talked me in to not resigning.  So I regrouped and tried to bring my grades up, but the hole was too deep, I failed some classes and was relieved of my duties as a Cadet. 

West Virginia State University:  Getting kicked out of school was probably one of the best worst things that ever happened to me, because it was very humbling, and it forced me to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses and to go with what I was good at.  I was very good at math, so that’s what I majored in at my next stop, West Virginia State. 

University of Louisville:  I went on to get a Masters in Industrial Engineering at the University of Louisville.  I did that mostly to show myself that I may not be as unintelligent as I thought I was, and turns out my IE degree landed me the job I got after I retired from the Army. That was at the Defense Manpower Data Center in Monterey, CA.  I used that salary to pay off my Kentucky Home, car, credit cards, and get one of the fastest Tri Bikes on the planet, the Cervelo P4.  I tapped that source of income until I no longer needed it and moved from California back to Kentucky to be closer to my son and family in West Virginia and so I could live the retired life and live off my Army pension without any debt, and just be a full time Triathlete until I die. 

Did you play sports in College? 

I played football at West Point, but didn’t play sports at WV State.  I’d walked on the football team during spring training and earned a spot at starting Free Safety, but when the season started, I had a Differential Equations class that was scheduled at the same time practice was to be held.  I needed that class to graduate, and it was only offered during that time frame.  I also didn’t want to just stand on the sidelines and watch the games, I wasn’t programmed to play Football that way, I wanted to start, and I also didn’t think it was fair to start while not practicing, so I chose not to play football and go with what I needed to graduate. 

When and where did you start doing triathlon?

I have a theory that men will go to great lengths to accommodate a woman.  In 2005 there was this cute lady at DMDC that I met a year or so after I got divorced.  Long story short, she was a triathlete and if I was going to spend time with her, I needed to run, bike, and swim with her.  I did my first triathlon as a relay member on her team at the UVAS Triathlon somewhere in CA.  She did the swim and bike, and I ran.  We came in third place, yes! Later that summer I did my first solo triathlon up in Sacramento.  I don’t remember my time or anything, I just remember we had to swim upstream for a bit and then back downstream to the swim exit, which was on the other side of the river.  At the time I was right side dominant, so in open water I’d drift to the left.  A kayaker had to tap me and tell me I was about to swim into oncoming swimmers headed back downstream to the exit.  I also was not happy about a whole lot of bikes going past me.  At the time I thought 18 MPH was fast, but now I’m in the low 20s.  Big difference. 

How many sprints, Olympic, half ironman, and ironman have you done?

Total?  I have no idea.  I only do a few per year.  Not every weekend thing like back in my 30s when all I did was run 5Ks. I do know I’ve done 3 half’s, and 4 full’s.  And some Aqua-Bikes at those distances as well. 

What is your favorite distance to race? 

That question gets a two sided answer.  I’m most effective as a podium threat at the Sprint and Olympic Distances.  Since I turned 50 I haven’t missed the podium in any of those races, so that’s four seasons, 50, 51, 52, 53 of making the podium in every Sprint and Olympic Tri I’ve done.  That’s true for Relays too, except my relay teams have won every race except one, and we came in 2nd on that one, a 140.6 Mile Relay (I did the bike leg) last year at Cedar Point.

What is your favorite race? 

That would be Ironman Florida.  It’s nice down at Panama City Beach, that’s where I’ve done all of my non-Kona solo 140.6s.  My first one was in 2007, with a 14:10:58 finish, and a few years later in 2012 I hit a 11:54: something.  My initial goal was to break 12 hours, and did so on my third attempt.  The second attempt, in 2011, I flatted both tires during the race, and it cost me, but I finish that one in 13:03: something.  I like Florida because it’s mostly flat, which plays very well to my strength, riding.  I posted a 21.5 MPH 112 mile split when I hit my 2012 PR. 

Besides triathlon what other sports you do?

None, really.  I did do a series of Time Trials in 2014 – The B2 Time Trial Series in Seymour, IN.  They award points based on your finishes, and that year the top four of five of our races went toward the Series Championship.  I’d already won four races by the time we go to the final race, so I went knowing I was already the Series Champ, but I didn’t want to just kick back and coast.  I attacked it, and won by only 8 seconds.  The really cool part though, was earlier that morning I straight up won a Sprint Tri at Taylorsville Lake, KY, finishing 1st overall.  That was a first!  So I was crowned Champion in Two Different sports in two different states, on the same day.  I’m pretty sure that doesn’t happen that often, especially at age 52.  So, I’m grateful that I could do that and it’s something I can smile about for the rest of my life. 

How was winning the lottery to Kona? Was it worth it?

Winning the Kona lottery was surreal.  Kona was never on my wish list of things to do because my marathon is not good enough, and I give back a whole slew of positions after I get off the bike, so winning the lottery to go to Kona was a pleasant surprise.   

The Kona experience was awesome.  I was determined to finish the race, and to beat both of the celebrities there. Sean Astin and Gordon Ramsey.  Got all of that done.  I didn’t feel anything intimidating about it being the Ironman World Championship, I looked at it as an affirmation of what I could accomplish through really hard training. It helped that my great friend Lauralyn Taylor and my best friend from West Point, Rodney Smith, his wife Leesa, and his brother Mike, and his wife Melissa were all there on a vacation and to support me on the course.  Lauralyn, also an Ironman finisher, was instrumental in getting me to the finish line because she helped with everything I did there.  Carried equipment, forced me to drink water all the way up to race day, and she even ran part of the last couple of miles with me. 

My finish time for Kona was 13:40: something. 

Tell us in detail about winning the USA Triathlon National Challenge Competition?

Ah yes, the USAT NCC. Its purpose is to keep triathletes engaged in training during the winter off-months, but then some of us are extremely competitive.  The NCC is not about how fast, it’s about how much.  It kicks off in December and runs through February with each month dedicated to a Tri discipline, but you record all of your miles regardless of month.  Dec is swim, Jan is bike, and Feb is run.  Awards are given to male/female winners of each discipline, and to the overall mileage male/female Champions.  I’ve done the NCC 3 times. My first year I finished 3rd overall, 2d male, and resolved that I’d win it the following year.  In my second year I not only won the NCC Individual Championship, but I set a new combined mileage record with 11,444 miles.  In pursuit of that win, I paid a very heavy price because I did the final two months with saddle sores that got infected, and I masked the pain with healthy amounts of Orajel.  Numbed it up so I could ride.  After the event was over, my groin area was so messed up I had to miss over a month of training while taking medication to heal the area. 

I wasn’t sure I wanted to make an attempt to repeat this year, but decided to give it a go.  I did win again, but with a few thousand miles less.  I don’t gloat about being a Two-Time National Champion, but it is nice to have that honor.  I had the great advantage of being retired, so I had plenty of time, but I did put the time in, so I earned it.  

Tell us about Black Triathlete’s Association (BTA)?

Back in 2005, and the first few years of doing Tris, many times I’d show up and the only black person there was me.  It’s not an intimidating or awkward feeling, but it left me feeling like a whole lot of people don’t know what they’re missing.  BTA was formed by Tony Brown in late 2014, and I’ve seen the organization grow from a few hundred to over 2400 in just over a year.  And BTA is open to all, being black is not a requirement, and I like to say that BTA is not a us against them, organization, but it’s more of a format to show black athletes that the age old myths about not being able to swim is just that, a myth, but let’s also throw in the extreme health benefits of combining three sports into one, and the training that goes into it.    I’ve been in other Tri-groups, but none of them have the same unique feel of BTA.  BTA feels like a huge family where we support each other, and there is absolutely no bickering tolerated.  My role in BTA is to set the example.  “If I can, so can you.” 

 Tell us all you wish to tell about yourself?

I’ve got ten years in now, I didn’t see my first podium until I was 50, and I’m a better triathlete now than I was then.  At some point my ability will go in the other direction, but relative to my fellow age groupers, I think I’ll be competitive for a very, very, long time.  My story is only beginning. 


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