Hunter Kemper's early introduction to triathlons may have been on a whim, but his drive and dedication to the sport have kept him coming back, even after a debilitating injury nearly kept him out of the London 2012 Games.
Kemper, 36, who grew up in Longwood, Fla., was 10 when he participated in his first triathlon. While he had been swimming, he hadn't considered pursuing triathlons until he beat out three other competitors in a 10-and-under event in Clermont, Fla. that he raced in for fun.
His dad, Tom Kemper, said he's been hooked ever since.
"He said he wanted to start [doing triathlons], but I didn't want him to," Tom Kemper said. "I said, 'You have to be kidding me! There's no future in triathlons -- that's a recreational sport:"
But Kemper pushed on. His wife, Val Kemper, a former member of the U.S. national volleyball team, said her husband participated in the Iron Kids National Championships each year up until college.
"Because he won, I think it kind of fueled his fire and [he] continued to do it," Val Kemper said. "He realized he was good at it."
While Kemper ran track and cross country in college at attending Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., each summer he'd sign up to compete in triathlons. Val Kemper said none of his friends at school even knew about his passion for the sport.
Triathlons are a test of athletic endurance. The event consists of a 1500 meter swim, followed by a 25-mile bike race, and concludes with a 10K run.
At his graduation from college in 1998, Kemper surprised his father when he told him he wanted to move to Colorado Springs, Colo. so he could begin training at the U.S. Olympic Complex to become a professional triathlete. Earlier that year, the International Olympic Committee announced the triathlon was going to be introduced for the first time at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Austrialia.
"He had good grades, and graduated with honors. I thought he'd go into the business world," Tom Kemper said. "I said, 'Are you kidding me? Does this mean you're still on my payroll?'"
Kemper's qualifying times weren't good enough to allow him to live at the training center, Tom Kemper said, so he moved close by so he could still train there. By the end of the summer of 1998, Kemper had won the national championships in Carlsbad, Calif., and turned professional, allowing him to move into housing within the facility.
In 2000, Kemper qualified to compete in the triathalon event at the Sydney Olympics. He also competed in the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece, and the 2008 Games in Beijing, China.
But Kemper's commitment to Olympic glory was not without pitfalls.
During an October 2011 race in Myrtle Beach S.C., Kemper, 36, shattered his elbow when a competitor who had been lapped in the swimming portion of the race ran into the transitional area where Kemper was pedaling through on his bike, neck and neck with another competitor.
Val Kemper, who was at the race, said he had just come down a hill, and was likely going 35 miles an hour.
"He was hit by a runner who shouldn't have been on the course," Tom Kemper said. "Because of the spectators, no one could see him."
Typically, if an athlete is about to be lapped during a triathlon, they are removed from the course, said Val Kemper. But no one stopped the runner when he was coming out of the swimming event, she said.