Health Care

Going the distance

Kelli King rides her bike through her Hampton Hall neighborhood on Friday. Kelli and her sister, Meghan, both qualified for the Ironman 70.3 to be held in Clearwater, Fla., later this month.
Kelli King rides her bike through her Hampton Hall neighborhood on Friday. Kelli and her sister, Meghan, both qualified for the Ironman 70.3 to be held in Clearwater, Fla., later this month. Jay Karr/The Island Packet

Kelli and Meghan King grew up as competitive swimmers. As they grew older, they stayed active, moving on to running and cycling, as well.

They started competing in triathlons and a couple of years ago set their sights on the Ironman 70.3, the so-called half-Ironman race.

They both reached their goal.

Kelli, 26, and Meghan, 24, will be competing in the Ironman World Championship 70.3 on Saturday in Clearwater, Fla.

The two sisters now live apart -- Kelli is a fourth-grade teacher at Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School and Meghan works in public relations in Atlanta -- but their common goal has helped keep them close.

When they were younger, their father, Chip, was in the Navy, so the family bounced around the country. Growing up, the girls swam in club groups, and they continued to swim at their colleges -- Kelli at Georgia Southern University and Meghan at St. Bonaventure University.

Their parents settled in Bluffton eight years ago with their youngest daughter, Hannah.

Kelli had kept up with her swimming and started running about three years ago. She also started taking spin classes.

The combination of swimming, running and cycling led her to triathlons. Meghan followed a similar path.

They felt the Ironman 70.3 was the next big step in their triathlon careers. It's a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13-mile run. To qualify, contestants must finish first in their age group in one of the nearly 40 feeder Ironman triathlons worldwide. The Ironman World Championship 70.3 features more than 1,800 contestants.

Kelli started on the triathlon path sooner than her sister. Once Meghan joined, Kelli helped her figure out the transitions between different stages of the race. The first one they ran together was on Parris Island in March. Kelli did well, and Meghan wasn't far behind. Her older sister took notice of that.

"After she did so well, I was like, 'OK you need to start figuring this out yourself,'<2009>" Kelli said a laugh.

The sisters thrive on a type of competition that's supportive rather than cutthroat. They each want to do well, they say, but they also want the other to find the same success.

They train together, Meghan often coming down from Atlanta to run with Kelli on the weekends, like when she helped Kelli get ready for the Orlando, Fla., triathlon, where she qualified. And it was Kelli who was shouting to Meghan at her qualifying triathlon in Augusta, Ga., that she was second in her age group. It was enough motivation to get her to cross the finish line in first place.

It's a bond that goes beyond support, perhaps one only they share. Several times, they've been at the starting line for a race, jittery with nerves. And there will be Meghan, getting her sister to laugh because she knows that once Kelli gets going it'll get herself laughing in response. Before you know it, they'll be laughing and those pre-race jitters will be gone. Sure, they'll get a few strange looks as they giggle up a storm before a big race at 4 a.m. But that's what it means to have one of the few people who know you more than anyone else on that starting line with you.

Now, they're working on the other family members to join in. Even their dad has started competing in triathlons. They're talking their mom into running a half marathon at Disney World next year with Hannah, who's now attending the University of South Carolina. As the girls have started to move out of the house, they've found a way to stay together.

"It's become like a family vacation for us," Kelli said.