Kim Bramblett would not describe herself as having been an athletic child. As a schoolgirl, she willingly embraced summer school so that she could get ahead in her classes, and liked math because “there is always an answer, no wiggle room for interpretation.” When she did have to take the P.E. track and field tests, she lamented always finishing last. And playing sports? “It was defeating, always being the one picked last,” she says.
Well, Kim Bramblett is no longer that little girl.
This year, she is competing in her 20th Ironman triathlon competition.
Kim was born and raised in a suburb of Chicago and grew up with one brother. She went to college at the University of South Florida, majoring in anthropology with a minor in Southeast Asian studies. “I was going to join the Peace Corps and change the world,” she says of her studies. Things shifted when she met her first husband. They were married, and soon after, moved to New York for both of their jobs. Kim ran a third-party moving service company where she organized and dispatched a variety of technicians across the country to complete tasks that the moving company could not do – like disassemble pool tables and complete electrical work.
Kim admits that she did not even work out until she was 30 years old. “I had my first daughter at 23 years old and my second daughter when I was 27,” she says. “At that time, I was working full time and had a 45-minute commute to work, with my kids in two different daycares. Needless to say, I had no time for myself.”
While Kim and her young family lived in upstate New York, she struggled to lose weight. “I would try to run a little bit here and there,” she recalls. “But it was always a battle.” She finally decided that she had to do something for herself, and bought a treadmill. “I started walking on the treadmill at night after work. Then I realized that if I walked faster, I would finish faster. Then I decided to jog a little bit, because it made the hour go by even quicker.” She credits this season of her life (and her treadmill) as the catalyst for seeing a surprising difference in her body. She was finally losing weight.
Kim and her family moved from New York to Georgia in 1998 for her husband’s job transfer. “We first moved to Smyrna. But when we discovered Peachtree City, we knew we had found something special, especially for the kids,” she notes. “You just can’t help but fall in love with what we have here.” One of the best reasons for moving from Smyrna to Peachtree City was also one of the challenges: learning the golf cart paths. “I would get lost on the paths, and my so-called ‘short runs’ would get longer and longer,” she recalls.
With her running speed and endurance increasing, she thought, why not sign up for a marathon? Still, a marathon is a 26.2-mile race; it’s a big leap to go from golf cart paths to the big-time. Kim needed, though, to prove something to herself, to be different from the kid who was always picked last at school: “I remember thinking, ‘Well, if I can run 10 miles, why can’t I run 15? And if I can run 15, why can’t I run 26?’ And if I do that, then maybe somehow I will be accepted. I will know that I achieved that thing I was looking for.”
After deciding to make the 1998 Chicago Marathon her first, she began to train – even though she didn’t know much about marathon training back in those days. “I just went to the gym and ran on the treadmill,” she says. She claims that she didn’t really know what she was doing, and laughs about how she wore “a cotton tee shirt” to the race (“no one does that”) and “somehow finished.”
After that first marathon, Kim decided to sign up her first triathlon in 2000. A triathlon is no easy feat: It is a multiple-stage competition that includes swimming, biking and running over various distances. An athlete’s performance is measured by their race time, which includes the time it takes for the transitions of getting out of the water, getting on the bike, getting off the bike, and adding or shedding layers, shoes, and accessories as needed before completing.
“The first triathlon I ever did was in Chicago, as well. It gave me the opportunity to say that I was finally an athlete,” Kim says. “My brother joined me. We still laugh at the rookie mistakes we made, like going out to a four-star dinner the night before the race with our body marking numbers on our arms and legs already.” She remembers enjoying the race, despite using a borrowed bike with a chain that kept falling off. “Every time I switched gears, the chain fell off,” she remembers. “I had to stop and put it back on. But I kept riding. I thought, ‘I just won’t switch gears. I’ll just make do.’” But she kept her goal in mind – to finish the race. “During that first triathlon I remember stopping along the course and playing basketball with the kids on the court. I wasn’t trying to break any records, I just wanted to finish.”
Kim found that she could take better care of everyone in her family if she took good care of herself. During this time, her marriage ended, and she stayed focused on her family and her training. She made sure to fit her workouts in so that she could be a present parent. “I quit working when we moved to Georgia, so I was able to train during the day while the kids were at school. But then I started working full-time again, so it was back to the early morning workouts,” she explains. She found that she was able to be more patient and “a better parent” when she got her daily work out in.
Over the course of her personal and athletic journey, Kim’s cheerful optimism kept her spirits high. She met Dan Bramblett, a former U.S. Navy diver, and the pair married in 2006. Dan cites her positive attitude as one of the characteristics that sets her apart. “She does everything with a smile, no matter what is thrown her way,” he notes. “It lights up everyone around her.”
Kim’s hunger for challenge continued to fuel her athletic development. Reading and conducting relentless research on triathlon training guided Kim toward her next goal: competing in an Ironman. This is a race unlike any other, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon run, in that order, without any break. It can take anywhere between 8 and 17 hours to complete, depending on the athlete. She had competed in only two triathlons and one marathon before deciding to take on an Ironman race. “I just seemed to finally find something that I enjoyed,” she remarks. “Everybody’s got their thing, and training and racing became mine. I might not be the fastest, but I found that I could outlast.”
Kim competed in Ironman Florida in 2001, followed by over a dozen other Ironman races. With each event her desire to race faster, eat healthier, and train harder increased. During this season, Kim discovered that her hard work made the previously impossible goals possible. Her friend Jen Kalen says, “There is a great deal of personal sacrifice required to maintain a healthy balance as an accomplished athlete and wife and mother. She demonstrates her commitment to her family, her athletes and her own athletic goals by always striving for greatness and leading by example.” This commitment to growth is echoed by another friend, Lisa Matthews. “Kim made great improvements over the years with her cycling and running. She is an inspiration because she shows me that hard work pays off.”
But the payoff didn’t come without its fair share of unexpected mid-race circumstances. Like the time her bike seat broke and she had to cycle the last 20 miles standing up, or when her bike pedal broke and she biked the last 10 miles with one leg, or when she had an upset stomach that forced her to walk during a marathon. And yet, as Dan says, “Her attitude that ‘anything is possible’ is reflected in everything she does.” She continued to persevere with each race.
Kim was eager to find a community of athletes in the area that she could connect with. “For a small town like Peachtree City, I found a large contingency of Ironman triathletes here,” she notes. “We started doing some training together – Sunday morning runs and cycling together here and there.” Out of this league of athletes, the Tri-PTC Club was formed in 2003, lending Southside triathletes like Kim support and camaraderie. “I made my best friends doing this,” she says. “It’s become something that I can do with them, since we have a goal and a common purpose.” Along with her involvement as a board member of the PTC-Tri, Kim is also the Event Director of the PTC Youth Triathlon, an annual event for children 6-15 years old, and the two adult triathlons in Peachtree City.
2003 was also the year that Kim started coaching other athletes. “When you don’t know anything, you have to do research,” she remarks. “And I did all this research, right? So I went to USAT (USA Triathlon) and took classes, took the test, got certified and then had some people who were kind enough to let me practice on them.” She laughs. “I practiced on myself too. And then eventually, made a business out of it.” Her business, Multisport Performance, provides coaching for athletes using customized training, nutritional planning, and of course, her signature blend of optimistic support. Kim has helped over 100 athletes achieve their Ironman goals. Friend and client Doreen Schatte says of Kim’s coaching style, “She doesn’t stand on the sideline giving directions; she’s right there with me, training hard.”
Kim continued her training and racing, even as she coached others. After competing in her twelfth Ironman, she was notified that she had earned a legacy slot to compete at the revered Ironman World Championship in October 2014 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Kim explains the selection process for the race: “In order to qualify for Kona, you have to come in first or second in your age division in another Ironman race, which is very difficult to do. The Legacy Program was designed for people who had come very close, but hadn’t actually gotten to the top. They gave me the opportunity to experience it.”
Kona is widely known to be the hardest Ironman course in the world, due to the trade winds coming off the water and the intense heat. Kim wanted to make sure she was bringing her best self to the competition, so she hired her first trainer, Laura Sophiea, a renowned triathlete and Ironman Championship coach, to help her prepare for the Kona championship.
After eight months of figuring out the balance of family life, work, and rigorous training, Kim was ready. “As an Ironman athlete, Kona is something I had always dreamed of doing,” she says. “It’s so neat because there are people of all ages, the best of the best athletes. And you look around and see the lava fields and the ocean and the setting sun. I mean, you’re in Hawaii, right? The anticipation of this race is so exciting.”
She admits that the challenging course led her to feeling pressure. “I wanted to protect my race and stay focused so that I could finish. It’s so windy on the course, and I would see athletes coming down the hill and the wind would knock them over. It was terrifying because I knew their race was over. And for somebody like me, I had to be careful, because I knew I might never get the chance again.” She smiles, adding, “But crossing that finish line felt amazing.” And it should have. Such a rare accomplishment is achieved by so few.
Kim continues to train and race, and can often be found enjoying the outdoors with her family. Dan says, “When the two of us want to have some alone time, we jump on our bikes or go for a run. It’s a time we really cherish.” She explains that the early mornings of training are gone “because Dan likes to have coffee together in the morning first.” After their coffee time, she completes her training while her kids are at school. Business partner and friend Kim Archbold is impressed by Kim’s ability to prioritize her family first. “Kim’s family is the priority and she makes everything else fit accordingly,” she comments. Her husband Dan agrees. “With Kim, family comes first,” he says. “She will give up workouts in order to not miss something with the family. She is a master at time management, so training and running her company are done while the family is at school or work.”
Kim agrees that her family is always on her mind, even when she feels the pressure to give up. “There are times I want to quit, because the training is hard. But then I think – what’s my son going to think? How am I going to explain quitting to my kids? It’s a reminder that you are a role model. Not only are my kids watching, but the athletes that I’m coaching are watching as well. I have a responsibility to them.”
That sense of duty is her compass and encouragement for others. “We are all role models. Our lifestyle sets an example for our kids,” she notes. “And it doesn’t have to be extreme, like running marathons. It can be walking for 30 minutes a day. It can be Zumba. You can keep your body healthy and you will feel better, and your kids will feel better.”
Despite her extraordinary achievements and hard work, one thing still “bugs” her a little. When the topic of regrets comes up, her response is immediate: “I need to be able to qualify for Kona on my own, not through the Legacy Program.” Although she completed the epic race, she still wants to achieve the goal of qualifying for that elite opportunity on her own terms. It’s one of her many goals that are on the horizon.
Among those goals, she is especially looking forward to October’s race in North Carolina, being that it is her 20th Ironman event. “Then I can quit, right?” she teases. Can she give herself permission to make it her last race? She’s not so sure.