Cover story written for the Emerald on a triathlete and his journey to nationals.
University of Oregon freshman Steven Kyker wears a blue wristband. It’s one of those plastic ones that gets you into venues, often times concerts. Usually it is cut off the moment you get home.
He left his on, both to win a bet and serve as a reminder.
“I don’t like to live in the past,” Kyker said. “But there are some things you have to look back on as motivation.”
Kyker is a triathlete, something that he has been doing for the past couple of years. He grew up in Boulder, Colorado competing as a swimmer and cross-country runner, which helped him transition into the sport. Despite only being 17-years-old, Kyker has already competed at some of the biggest triathlon events. This includes nationals this past summer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
It was there he met Zach Nollette before the race.
“He is so nice, that we just started talking and realized how much we had in common,” Nollette said. “He cares about others just as much as he cares about himself.”
Kyker finished 12th in his bracket — a notable feat since the United States Nationals is considered one of the toughest amateur triathlon races in the world.
In fact, he did so well that his performance earned him an invitation to compete at the ITU World Triathlon in Edmonton, Canada for team USA, something that is only offered to the top-18 finishers.
“When I qualified, there was just a lot of sense of pride — nationalistic and selfish,” Kyker said. “The U.S. is just so talented that I had no idea what to expect.”
After sharing a moment with his father, Rob, who was at the event with him, Steven called his mom Rita to tell her the good news.
“I remember being home here in Denver,” Rita said. “I went out to all my neighbors yelling ‘he did it, he did it!’”
She even decorated their whole house with Canadian flags as a welcome home surprise for her son.
Steven isn’t the only athlete in his family, as both his father and grandfather had successful sports careers as well. His father was recruited to play tennis for the University of Auburn, so he understands what it takes for Steven to succeed at such a high level.
“I just said ‘congratulations, I am very proud of you,’” Rob said.
While his father is always ready as a resource for Steven, being a triathlete has been an exercise in independence and self-discipline.
“My dad and I haven’t really talked that much about the necessities and the work and the dedication, you just kind of know,” Steven said. “You don’t get to be at the level of an international athlete without perseverance and sacrifices.”
During his peak training season Kyker will often spend about 15 hours a week working out. Sleep, money, social events — these are all things Steven has had to sacrifice to fuel his passion. And yet through it all, he never regrets the time he has put into the sport.
“You have no room for regret,” Kyker said. “If you miss one workout, it blows up the whole week. It’s hard, especially in the summer. There are just so many things you want to do with your friends, but you just have to say ‘no, I can’t, I have a workout at 6 a.m., in the morning.’”
His independence also shows in the fact Steven has never had a triathlon coach to guide him through his training. Thus, he has had to rely on his own determination and self-discipline to ensure his success as a triathlete. This involves plenty of research on his part, planning out everyday of his training schedule months in advance.
“It is a very grueling sport, and you can’t really get away with just winging it and not training,” Nollette said. “He trains hard and it definitely shows, it pays off.”
Steven is talented as a triathlete. He is competitive in the swim and relentless during the run, with a top average time during the final segment at 5:54 minute miles. As a cyclist, Kyker sees room for improvement in his technique, which will help him drop his overall time.
Being a triathlete is expensive, so before Steven could head to the World Championships, he needed to raise money for the trip. Through various donations from people in the community, help from crowdsourcing sites and a sponsorship from his uncle’s futon business KD Frames, Steven was able to raise $3500 to go.
Steven wasn’t traveling alone either, as Nollette also qualified. It was then that the bet came into place. The goal was to see who could keep their wristband on until the two met a few weeks later for the world championships.
“It was annoying me so much that I had to cut it off,” Nollette said. “I just couldn’t do it.”
Wearing it didn’t seem to bother Steven as much, who still had it on at the world championships 21 days later. Though winning the bet was great for bragging rights, the wristband had become a constant reminder that no matter the success there was always room for improvement.
The World Championship was obviously a special event for Steven. He had the chance to meet athletes from around the globe, partake in the opening and closing ceremonies and — best of all — represent his country.
“Being able to put on a jersey that has your last name and the country you’re representing, you just feel a lot of pride,” Steven said. “You are doing this for more than yourself, you are representing a nation.”
Rita traveled to Edmonton to watch her son taking the risk that doing so might mean confirming a superstition of bad luck.
The first time Rita ever watched Steven compete in a triathlon was two years ago, he got a flat tire during the race. Believing her presence was a curse, Rita never watched him compete again, until the World Championship.
“She told me after worlds that she was afraid something was going to happen,” Steven said laughing. “She thought I was going to crash, or that I would get hypothermia with the cold — motherly worries.”
The curse had been lifted and Steven finished 16th in his age group.
“It was not my best race technically,” Steven said. “But it was by far the most fun I have ever had competing.”
The technical issues were mainly due to the weather conditions on the course, which caused him to drop valuable seconds during the transition phases dealing with equipment problems. He also lost nutrition while he was biking.
More important than his individual performance was that of team USA, who dominated the competition. The team cruised to a first place finish, which according to Steven, was what really mattered.
With the memories of summer fading away, Steven is now focused on acquainting himself as a freshman at the University of Oregon. Though he plans on racing again next year, right now he is just going to class, meeting new friends and stressing over getting football tickets. He also plans on joining several clubs, one of which is the triathlon team.
All the while the wristband from nationals is still there, though some of the blue has begun to fade away. For now, it shows no signs of falling off.