By Sarah Gooding • Photos by Mandy Edmonson
Rion Huffman’s journey into triathlons began with a dream, but he wasn’t sure it was a dream he could realize until a few years ago.
“It’s something I had always wanted to do for some reason, but for some reason, I thought that’s a far-flung dream,” he said. “I never really dug in, just dismissed it.”
But in July 2017, Huffman took stock of his health, realizing he was carrying too much weight, which added risk factors to his family’s history of heart disease. He and his wife, Kristen, had run together off and on in the past, so together they began running, and he also adopted a vegetarian diet.
As they got healthier and began running longer distances, the encouragement of a friend helped Huffman begin conquering the mental barriers that made a triathlon seem undoable, including a dislike of running.
“Running was my gateway into triathlons,” he said. “My fear had been running a long distance after swimming and biking. Once I realized in my mind that I could run, I thought, ‘No big deal.’”
Discovering that triathlons come in a variety of distances helped him overcome another hurdle, the fear of starting with a grueling Ironman event.
By 2019, Huffman was 60 pounds lighter and ready to try his first event, so he started with a super-sprint-distance triathlon (swim 200 meters, bike 12.5 miles, run 1.3 miles).
“I was not prepared for it,” he said. “I had not practiced swimming at all. I was a good enough swimmer, but I wasn’t going to be fast. I entered, and I had an awesome time.”
Huffman’s 11-year-old son, Camden, was there cheering his dad on at the event, and also became interested enough that he entered the kids’ event in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Huffman completed his second triathlon.
Since last summer, Huffman has stretched himself with additional events, including setting a goal of completing an Olympic distance (1.5k swim/40k bike/10k run) event this year, now that he and his wife have logged 10k training runs.
“My goal is to do a half-Ironman before my 40th birthday,” Huffman said, adding the encouragement of the triathlon community helps keep him moving toward his goals.
“My favorite thing, beyond challenging myself in three different sports, is the awesome community that surrounds triathlon,” he said. “In a 5k, the beauty is the first person to cross the finish line is the winner, but in triathlon, the first person who jumps in the pool isn’t necessarily the first person to cross the finish line.”
Beyond that, the whole Huffman family has adopted a healthier lifestyle, swapping processed snacks for fresh produce and sedentary behavior for active pursuits.
“It’s awesome to know the whole family is more active and my wife and I are setting good examples for our kids,” he said. “The majority of my life, I have not been a super active person. I played sports, but on a day-to-day basis, I wouldn’t be active. Now, it’s no big deal for my son to pop up and say, ‘I’m going for a run,’ or ‘I’m going for a bike ride.’ My daughter, Anniston, also constantly wants to be active. The idea of being out and active is rewarding.”