Meet Kelly Phuah, Triathlete!

“I had a pretty good year. I qualified for the USAT Nationals for the Olympic distance and for the World Championship for 70.3.” This was Kelly’s introduction about herself at a meeting for the formation of the inaugural INTENT Elite Race Team in Chicago.

“It’s also my first year of doing triathlons,” she continued. Did I mention that she qualified the very first time she did those distances? Meet Kelly Phuah, triathlete extraordinaire.

We met Kelly through our running club when she lived here in New Jersey. She and Ben were running partners. Ben teased me by saying that he was sneaking out to meet another woman. I rolled over to continue sleeping and mumbled, “Have a good run.” I remember the very first time I met Kelly. It was the morning of a local 10K. It was minutes before a race gun was about to fire and Ben and I were making our way to our corrals. My corral was farther behind Ben’s, so I stayed back as Ben made his way to the front of the start line. Ben ran into Kelly in their corral and he pointed me out to her. Kelly dashed over to say to me. I said hi and then said, “You should probably get back to your corral before the race begins” because Kelly was completely ready to have a full friendly conversation with me. Her cheerful friendly demeanor and down-to-earth nature, if not her accent, give away the fact that she’s from Australia. Ben lost his running partner when she and her family moved to Chicago earlier this year. Chicago appears to be a great place for Kelly as her triathlon career as an amateur has taken off.

Kelly  was very athletic as a child. She ran, swam, and played softball all throughout her childhood. She remembers winning running races in elementary school and going on to represent her school in bigger regional races. While she participated in sports all the way through high school, like many people, she stopped being so active once she entered college. She became a nurse, met and married her husband Simon, had two sons, and moved to five different countries because of Simon’s career. As a busy working mum, she thought she only had time to do sports recreationally. Thus her competitive nature laid dormant for several years.

Kelly thought she would celebrate her 30th birthday by running a marathon. She found that she did have time to complete marathon training even with her busy schedule as a nurse and as a mother. She completed her first marathon in 3:55:16. This was the spark that kept her competitive nature alive. It wasn’t until Kelly and her family moved to Jersey City, NJ that Kelly was able to express herself as a full-blown athlete. Kelly became a stay-at-home mom in 2012 for a better work-life balance; when they return back to Australia she’ll go back to work in public health. With free hours that she hadn’t had previously, Kelly became addicted to . . . 99 cent romance novels. Between her embarrassment for her unhealthy obsession with romance novels and a good friend’s suggestion that they do a half Ironman together in an exotic location, Kelly renewed her athletic endeavors.

This is when Ben met Kelly. Kelly joined our running club. Ben’s always looking for fast people to run with, so Kelly fit the bill nicely. All I knew was that there was some girl whom Ben ran with and talked about a lot. Maybe I should have gotten jealous, but in reality I was thrilled that Ben found with whom he could run fast and therefore he stopped bothering me about running faster in our runs together. I do my best, but I can’t run anywhere near Ben’s and Kelly’s speed. While Ben is faster than Kelly, it quickly became clear that Kelly just plain kicked Ben’s ass when it came to triathlons.

In her first triathlon (the distance was between a sprint and an Olympic), Kelly came in 1st in her age group. Her next triathlon was an Olympic distance, New Jersey State Olympic/Sprint, in July 2013. Her time was good enough to qualify her for the USAT Nationals in Milwaulkee in 2014. The next day she and Simon did the sprint as a relay (she swam and ran, and he biked) and they came in first for their category. I asked Kelly about Lake George Triathlon, “Did you do anything remarkable at Lake George? Did you come in first?”

“Yeah,” she answered nonchalantly. Kelly got another age group award. Ben quipped, “There’s nothing remarkable about that because Kelly always get age group awards at triathlons.”

In September 2013, Kelly did her first half Ironman, Ironman 70.3 Augusta (her friend ended up not doing the triathlon). Kelly’s time of 5:03:08 was good enough to get her an invitation to the ITU World Championships in 2014. She accomplished all this in her first year of competing in triathlons.

Unfortunately a couple weeks after Augusta, she got into a bike accident on a training run. She broke her collar bone, which required extensive surgery. She couldn’t train for several months. We also learned that she and her family were moving to Chicago a few months later. Ben and I were very sad about losing them.

Moving to Chicago turned out to be a great move for Kelly. She joined INTENT Elite Race Team, where she receives training from Guy Petruzzelli, a professional triathlete. Previously Kelly had been coaching herself with online training programs. She really enjoys having a coach because he provides her with a structured program that addresses her weaknesses and propels her to the next level. For example, even though Guy had never seen Kelly swim, he gave her an exercise that corrects Kelly’s tendency for her arms to cross the midline while swimming freestyle. He could tell Kelly would do this because of the way she had completed from strength training exercises. Kelly fully trusts him to help her reach her goals. She likes having the accountability of a coach and knowing that if she fails to train properly that she’ll disappoint him, she works harder. Having teammates to train with also encourages her to train harder. She trains 12-13 hours per week and trains almost every day. In a two week period, she’ll have only one rest day.

I asked her what her greatest challenge was in triathlons. For her, the swimming practice sessions were difficult because she swims alone and can’t listen to music to help pass the time. Swimming could also be made difficult when there were other swimmers in the lane who don’t respect swim etiquette.

Kelly has been on fire this past year. She competed in more triathlons (and got a few more age group awards), in the Chicago Marathon (3:20:45 – well under the time needed to BQ), 3rd overall in a 50K trail ultarmarathon (in really treacherous muddy and .icy terrain) Her goals for 2015 are to do a sub-5 hr half Ironman, to get faster on the bike, and to just kick more ass (the last part goal was my inclusion).

For Kelly, the thrill of triathlons is the competition. She loves chasing down people, particularly on the run. The bike is her weakest sport out of the three disciplines, so other competitors can pass her. But on the run, she can run them down. “I feel like I can wear them down. I love hunting them. Yeah, I can get her. You’re mine.” she said. Then she finished with, “And I love medals. I love medals.”

Kelly is an amazing triathlete. Ben and I look forward to hearing about her races and we know that she’ll be doing more great things in 2015. If you want to follow her, you can read her blog: Splash, Mash, Dash!

8 thoughts on “Meet Kelly Phuah, Triathlete!

  1. I’m so impressed with people like Kelly who are both naturally talented and driven, which makes for amazing competitors. Glad her competitive nature is no longer dormant! I’ve really grown to love triathlon as a sport because you don’t have to be the fastest, but most well-rounded. As as a terrible biker myself, I agree–I LOVE chasing people down on the run! If only triathlon finished with the swim. Ah, a girl can dream.

    • Yeah, we were blown away when Kelly told us how well she did in her first triathlon. We knew she was a good runner, but she seriously kicks @ss in triathlons.

      I’m a bit envious of how well you swim. I wish liked swimming better.

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