Athlete relies on family, nutrition
Kevin Nickel runs because it is part of who he is. A Goessel High School and Tabor College alumnus, he is successful in half iron-man and triathlon competitions because of family support and good health habits.
“Because of my work, I need to portray a healthy lifestyle,” Nickel said. “My nature is to want to be the best at what I do, and I enjoy the competition.”
Nickel is director of sports performance programs at The Summit in Hutchinson. As part of the Pinnacle Sports/Orthopedics team, he is a speed, strength, and agility trainer working with middle school and high school athletes daily, and sidelining as an adult personal trainer.
Away from work, Nickel runs, bikes, and swims 10 to 15 hours a week to stay in shape for biweekly triathlon events in which he competes.
“Since we now have a 4-year-old and an 11-month old, I’ve had to tweak my training schedules just a bit,” Nickel said. “My family is my greatest support team. I do more speed and interval training now instead of long distance runs, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like to work out at times and places they can all be with me.”
Nickel said a lot of his training takes place indoors, at places where his children can bring their toys along and play within his sight as he works out.
On weekends when he is not competing, the family attends a rural Goessel church and visits parents, parents-in-law, and other relatives in rural Marion County. Nickel often makes weekends “home” into training sessions while family members enjoy visiting with each other.
“I just love running on the quiet country roads out here,” Nickel said. “There are some places with excellent hills and just long quiet stretches for a good workout.”
Nickel — who is ranked as one of the top Kansans in his sport, according to his father-in-law, Delbert Peters, has had a successful spring of iron-man competition. He was third in his age group April 7 in Galveston, Texas, which qualified him for World 70.3 Championships in Vegas.
In April, he won first (sixth time in a row) at the Spring Migration event in Emporia, and on May 5 he was a three-peat champion in the elite amateur division of the TriZou competition in Missouri.
Nickel placed sixth May 19 at the Kansas 5150 at Clinton Lake near Lawrence, and fifth on June 9 at the Kansas 70.3, also in Lawrence — even after a disastrous spill when a biker went down in front of him and he could not avoid a collision.
Despite the ever-present potential for serious injury, Nickel said he enjoys the thrill of competition and has experience in injury recovery.
“I compete as an elite amateur because it gives my sponsors exposure. I like to keep them happy because they cover all my expenses,” he said.
Nickel said the dream of becoming an Olympian in his sport was not high on his priority list.
“I know my abilities,” he said. “I am not one of those fast thoroughbred runners. I am more a strength-based runner, and my body is suited to half iron-man and full iron-man competitions.”
Still, Nickel’s priority in life remains rooted in his family, and he selects races that his family can attend with him.
“My wife and kids are great,” he said. “They run along with the stroller, ringing cowbells and cheering very loudly for me. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Nickel’s wife, Yvette, once an athlete in her own right (an NAIA national 400-meter track champion) is a stay-at-home mom. In additional to leading a vocal cheering squad for him, she helps Nickel keep the details of his life in order.
“She would say I forget my cap, goggles, everything without her to remind me,” he said. “But I count on her for that. I could not be successful without her. When I am ready to go race, I am very focused on the course and my body. I just don’t worry about the other details.”
A typical 70.3-mile half iron-man course includes 56 miles of running, 13.1 miles bicycling, and 1.2 miles of swimming.
“Strength comes not only from training but also from maintaining a well-balanced, lifestyle,” he said. “I don’t remember the last time I even wanted a soda. It’s just not part of my life.”
Nickel avoids using supplements or energy drinks, preferring instead to keep things as natural as possible.
“I believe in whole grains and a good balance of things,” he said. “ I really enjoy eating fruits and vegetables.”