COLUMBIA — After a grueling half-mile swim, Karen Knowles is helped out of the water at Twin Lakes Park. With a big smile on her face, she takes off her yellow swim cap and makes her way toward the transition station where her light blue bike and 19 miles of riding is waiting for her.
“Some of the more serious contestants won’t put on socks, because it wastes time,” Knowles said in reference to preparing for the bike ride. “But I can’t stand to ride without socks, and all I really care about is finishing, anyway.”
Knowles, 58, competed Sunday morning in her fourth Show-Me State Games triathlon, one of the most difficult competitions in sports. But Knowles said that five years ago, she was “an overweight couch-potato.”
“I just looked at myself and saw how fat I was and decided I needed to make a change,” Knowles said.
Knowles decided to start out slow, going to the public pool in Montgomery City and swimming a few laps. When she first started, she couldn’t make it the length of the pool without having to stop for a rest. But as time went on, Knowles built up the endurance to swim a quarter mile without resting.
It wasn’t until a biking trip with her sisters to Keystone Park in Colorado that Knowles even considered competing in a triathlon. On that trip, Knowles developed a love for biking similar to her love of swimming and decided to pursue competing in a triathlon.
“It sounded a bit unusual, so I was unsure," Knowles said. "But it also sounded like a terrific challenge.”
Knowles’ quest didn’t come without a little help from her husband Bryan Knowles, who gave Knowles his old tractor to sell for money to buy her bike.
“You know it all started from me deciding to start swimming and eating a little healthier,” Knowles said. “I never thought it would lead to me competing in a triathlon some day.”
After competing in a couple of other triathlons, she decided to try the Show-Me State Games in 2006.
“It sounded prestigious and just a great honor to be in a competition with so many athletes,” Knowles said. “Because I’ve never really considered myself and athlete, and I knew it would be a special feeling.”
In that first Show-Me State Games triathlon, she was able to finish, which was good enough for her. When she finished she was greeted by a friendly looking group cheering on late finishers. Knowles’ made her way over to the group to chat and was introduced to the Columbia Multi Sport Club and ended up joining soon after.
“They really kept me going in the triathlon,” Knowles said. “If it wasn’t for the Show-Me Games, I might not still be doing this.”
For the past three years, after competing in the Show-Me State Games, Knowles has sworn that she will never do it again, but she always seems to find herself entering another race come summertime.
“You kind of forget about the suffering that you’ve gone through by the springtime,” Knowles said. “Ultimately I always give in and decide to make another trip back.”
Knowles said she hopes to continue to compete in the Show-Me State Games into her 60s.
“Yeah I should be back again next year, but you might have to ask me again after the race,” Knowles said laughing.