Malibu triathlete sets sights to be in top 125

Malibu resident Derek Kite has been triathlon training full time only since April.

Only one of two Americans to win a sanctioned triathlon this year, this athlete trains full time to achieve his goal to be ranked world wide.

By John Banker

Malibu resident Derek Kite, just seven months after becoming a professional triathlete, won his first internationally sanctioned triathlon in Valparaiso, Chile on Nov. 23 and has his sights set on the United States Olympic trials next spring and the Olympics in Athens, Greece next summer.

“He’s an excellent runner, and the run is the key to the race,” B.J. Hoeptner Evans, USA Triathlon director of Communications and Media Relations, said. “I didn’t even know he was triathlon-ing until I saw those results.”

And how would she have known? Kite only started triathlon-training full time in April. “Our life got really crazy when I won that race,” Kite said. “I’m still learning something new about myself and my body in every race.”

“We like to say he went from zero to hero when he won that race,” Kite’s manager, No. 1 fan, and wife of nine months Valerie Kite said.

“Only two Americans have won races this year, and he’s one of them,” she said, smiling ear-to-ear.

Every athlete has his or her Achilles’ heel and for Kite, a former Zuma Beach lifeguard, oddly enough in the elite world of the triathlon, his weakness is the swim. “I’ve made over 300 rescues at Zuma, at least 30 were life-saving,” Kite said. “But most triathletes come from a swimming background. I’m a runner.”

“No triathlete in the world can stay with me on the run,” Kite, ranked 223 internationally, said. “My challenge is plain as day, when it comes right down to it…it’s all about the pool.”

Kite reached the finals at the 1996 Olympic Trials in Atlanta in the steeplechase, a 3,000-meter (two miles) track race complicated by hurdles and water pits. “I was racing for a chance to go the Olympics,” he said. “It just didn’t happen. But all my life, I’ve known I would be a triathlete.”

With his goal to get back to the Olympic Trials next spring, Kite changed his training regimen in October with one thing in mind: “Nothing else matters to me except the swim,” he said. “I cut my running and cycling back somewhat and focused heavily on the pool. Since my weakness is the swim, then I will just train twice as hard to get it improved.”

Sanctioned International Triathlon Union races are uniform with regard to order and distance of each leg. Each triathlon starts with a 1,500-meter swim (one mile), followed by a 40-kilometer bike (24.8 miles) and concludes with a 10K run (6.2 miles). “He has to get out of the water with at least the second pack of men for it really to matter,” Hoeptner Evans said.

This is important because, if Kite comes out of the water too far behind, he won’t have the opportunity to ride the biking portion of the race in a pack of cyclists. “You can go so much faster in a group,” Kite said. “If there are six of us in a group, each man does one-sixth of the work. If you are alone, it’s all on you.”

Kite’s recent change in training philosophy paid immediate dividends with his win in Chile. “I came out of the water with the second pack of swimmers so I was able to draft with a lead pack of cyclists. I saw the writing on the wall. I knew the race was mine.”

“Derek is the most disciplined person I have ever known,” Valerie Kite said.

He had to call on most of that discipline this past April just to become eligible to race professionally. “I won back-to-back triathlons in April to earn my pro license” he humbly stated.

What he didn’t mention was that the first race was in Alabama on April 26; the second was in Las Vegas the very next day.

Did someone mention travel?

In order to be eligible to compete in the Olympic Trials to take place next April and May, Kite will have to be ranked in the top-125 in the world. “He has a lot of traveling to do,” Hoeptner Evans said. “There are races in Mexico and Argentina that he will have to not only compete in, but also place in the Top 10, if he hopes to qualify for the trials.”

“Nothing else matters to me except being ranked in the top-125 in the world. Right now I am a rookie,” the 32-year old said. “I am still learning something new about myself in every race I compete in. I am learning new training techniques in the pool. And I am getting results. When I am swimming I am constantly thinking about my form, counting strokes, five days a week, three hours a day. I know I am going to shock people in the triathlon … win races, shock people, and do it

my way.”

Kite will be competing in Argentina on Jan. 18, Mexico on Feb. 28, Honduras on March 6 and again in Mexico on March 27. “If I win just one, it will be hard to keep me out of the trials. I want to finish Top10 in all four,” Kite said.

Currently Kite is in full-time training. When he’s not lifting weights, running and cycling three days a week, or swimming five days a week, Kite is either taking his daily hour-and-a-half nap or eating whatever he wants. “With my current training schedule, I’m not nearly as worried about calories as I am cavities,” he mused.

Typical fearsome activities like biking straight up Tuna Canyon, taking mile-long ocean swims off Zuma Beach, going on 12-mile “jogs” every Friday morning, or traveling all over the world chasing his dream doesn’t scare this athlete. “You want to know what is scary?” he asked. “Being a triathlete and not having your bike come down with your luggage off the airplane. Now that’s scary.”