What it’s like to build a kids’ triathlon event from the ground up

by Kim on August 15, 2013

Hey guys! I’m still hanging out in Florida—can’t wait to tell you all about the trip! In the meantime, I’m so, SO thrilled about today’s post!

If you’re anything like me, you have big dreams and goals for the future. The problem is that we’re often guilty of attaching one big, paralyzing word to those dreams: someday.

How do you push through whatever obstacles or perceived limitations are standing between you and your dreams, and make them happen?

I had a chance to chat with Katie Hensel, a former colleague of mine and, now, the founder and CEO of Tri 4 Schools (a nonprofit kids’ triathlon program) to find out how she did it.

T4S4Here’s Katie with her husband Doug and adorable little girl, Riley!

Katie’s a wonderful example of someone who had a big dream and actually followed through with that dream, despite the same challenges and doubts we’re all up against. She’s super inspiring, and I wanted you all to hear her story!

First, a little more about Tri 4 Schools: the coolest thing about this program is that it reroutes 100% of its race fees back into schools. (Seriously: 100%!) The funds can be used for any program, equipment, or other resource that gets kids active or teaches them about health.


So really, the impact of this program is much, much bigger than the occasional triathlon or mud run, although those events are life-changing for kids in and of themselves.

You can read more about T4S here.

Now, on to the interview with Katie!

1. What inspired you to start Tri 4 Schools?

I volunteered at a kids triathlon in 2009 and saw how much fun the kids were having, and how hard they pushed themselves to cross the finish line with an empty tank. I also knew how much participating in triathlon had started me on the right track to a healthy lifestyle (eating better, getting more sleep, balance in all aspects of my life).

Along with that, part of my faith in God is that He is always pushing me to find fulfillment in my work in a way that glorifies Him and leaves an impact on others.  I think all of those things combined helped me form the vision of something that helps kids and the community.

2. Describe the process of getting started.

I started working on the structure and business plan for T4S in November of 2010 and incorporated as a non-profit starting that February (three months later). In those first three months I did a lot of interviews with people in that field, reading about non-profits, and meeting with lawyers and accountants to figure out all the steps needed to get going.

Between February and our first event in August (I wanted to give myself at least six months to organize) I spent about 35 hours per week on T4S. I wanted to make it as full-time of a position as possible, and being new to the industry, many of those hours were spent networking, promoting, doing research, and making phone calls to help get financial support.

I approached potential sponsors with a professional guide on what my goals were and why we would be successful. I found that I had to cast a pretty wide net to get the support that we did, and that meeting in person was my best ticket to getting someone to support us. I think passion and energy really speaks for itself when you have a new idea.


3. You left a comfortable job to start Tri 4 Schools. That’s a scary thing! How did you approach that transition, and what were some of the things you did that helped secure your success?

First of all, I went into it with the support of my husband. That is probably the most important piece of my success. He was willing to support us financially and encourage me in this effort, which took out a lot of the pressure and risk on my end. It also helped give me the confidence that I had someone who believed in me, when truthfully many of my family and friends were skeptical.

The other thing I did at the beginning was gave myself a timeframe: I would not do this for free for more than a year (with a goal of earning back my personal investment after the first year), and I would not do this for more than five years if we hadn’t met the benchmarks I set for us as an organization. I think going in to it with that framework really helped me determine if we were succeeding and when the time to abandon the effort would be.

4. Did you ever have doubts about whether Tri 4 Schools would succeed? If so, how did you work through them?

I still do have doubts! Every day is a challenge, and some weeks are better than others. I think I have to keep coming back to my business plan and the goals/benchmarks I set each year to help quell those fears. If that’s what I use to determine if we are succeeding, and we are meeting or exceeding those, then we are successful regardless of how I might feel at the time.

Any time the “buck stops” with you, I think it can put fear and anxiety in your heart and mind, so I have to remember to celebrate our successes along the way and do what I can do to address those fears.

5. Lots of people have big dreams. How do you know when a dream is worth the risk?

Boy, that’s a hard question.  I think I can only answer for myself, which for me was: does it put my family at risk for the future? Giving myself five years was my way of essentially limiting my risk, in that doing something for five years wasn’t going to ruin our financial future for the rest of our lives.

Also, my way of limiting risk is to plan for it. The more organized you are, the less likely you are to make risky decisions, because you’ve planned them out carefully.


6. You’re a mom. How do you balance motherhood with pursuing your dreams? What advice do you have for other moms who have big dreams but fear that they can’t do both?

Being a mom is definitely a tricky balance with running a business from home. Right now we can only afford daycare two days per week, so I do a lot of work when she naps or at night when she’s sleeping.

My goal is to get to a point where I bring in more income as she grows, which will allow her to transition to more daycare so I can work more normal hours. However, right now I think it brings me great balance and helps prioritize my life to have a mix of both. When she is awake and home with me I focus on her and make every effort to not check email or have work phone calls, because it’s a blessing to be able to have this time with her when she is little.

I would tell other moms who dream of doing something new that you will find a routine and balance that works for you – just like you did when you became a mom and your world turned upside down at first. It might not be ideal for awhile (I don’t really like working at night, for example) but if you are truly passionate about what you do, it makes those tough choices a little easier.

7. What is something you hope your daughter will see and internalize as she grows up watching you run Tri 4 Schools?

My hope is that she sees what I’m building and that this is my way of helping make her friends and generation healthier and happier, and that she also sees that you can start something from nothing, and if you work hard, you can make dreams come true.

I always looked up to my mom, who worked full time, but still spent as much time with us as possible – going to our games and chaperoning on the occasional field trip – and I want my daughter to see that too.


Note: All photos in this post are courtesy of Krakora Studios (coincidentally, the same photography team who did our wedding!).

Are you a dreamer?

What’s something standing between you and your dreams right now?

If you have kids, what’s something you want them to see when they look at you?


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