Swim Bike Run, And Mother

“My goal is to help people of all abilities achieve their personal best. By focusing on overcoming limitations through movement, mindset and fitness fun, I am passionate about making sure you are armed with everything necessary to complete your goals.”
~ Kari Duane

I am lucky to know quite a few different amazing women. As a mother of six, Ironman finisher, and triathlete coach, Kari Duane is an example of endurance and strength. I met Kari and her family when they moved in next door to my husband and I, while I was pregnant with our first son. I quickly learned that they were deep in the trenches of parenting with their six kids. As though that wasn’t enough, the youngest, at eight years old, were triplets! While I struggled through the discomfort of that first pregnancy (pelvic pain, ladies – get it checked out. It is not a necessary part of pregnancy or postpartum!), I laughed at the idea of six kids in one house. It sounded like they were having a blast, but honestly, how do you parent that? It’s practically a classroom! One baby and three years later, my husband and I unexpectedly got pregnant with twins (Surprise!). Once they were born, we constantly whispered to each other, How do they do it with triplets? And three additional kids?! SIX KIDS. When either my husband or I felt at our wit’s end, we would say, Six. Kids. In a moment of chaos, three didn’t seem so unmanageable. If someone could parent six, we could parent three!

As our young family grew, each of their five daughters babysat for us. Each daughter was intelligent, sweet, and kind in her own beautifully different way. As the years have passed, I have devised my own measurement to gauge parenting success. It goes something like this: one terrific kid does not indicate parenting success – you might have just gotten lucky; two terrific kids – it’s 50/50. It might be the parenting, it might not be. However, when I see three or more well-adjusted, happy kids in one family, I look to the parents. Clearly they are doing something right!

I consider myself a mosaic – a multifaceted and curious kind of gal. Within me, there are all sorts of different characteristics, traits, and interests, and I think most women are like this. Another reason I admire Kari? While she was raising a family with her husband, she embarked on an entrepreneurial career. She put in the time; she put in the effort; and she made sacrifices to pursue a passion and build her own business as a Triathlete Coach (and participant). The following is a condensed transcription of a phone interview that took place for a couple of hours over the course of a few days. Kari was very generous in sharing her time and her thoughts, so grab a hot mug of something delicious and settle in. I hope that you find her as inspiring as I do!


Was this career, that you have now, your envisioned path before marriage & kids?

No. I knew I wanted to own a business and that I didn’t want to work in a normal, 9-5, kind of office. Before having kids, I did think about doing something with counseling, or social work, or helping people, but once I had kids and I realized the energy that it was going to take for me to be there for them, that completely went out the window. As they’ve become more independent, I think I’m now back in that role again, where I can help other people because my kids are able to help themselves.

How did this path develop?

I’ll just tell you the story: First, I now believe that any type of coaching is Life coaching – Any type!

I came to coaching from David [her husband] getting cancer. In Ohio, when he was recovering from his cancer surgery, all he could do was swim. There was an indoor pool and there was a track upstairs that he and I had always worked-out on together, but he could no longer do it. I could see through the window and down into the pool, and I could see that he was struggling to get in and out. One day, I saw him and it looked like he was going to fall, like it was slippery down there. I had had so many days, previously, of thinking, “I’m running, and he can barely walk.”  That day, I made the decision to go downstairs. I decided I would tell him that I was going to swim with him for my workouts, that the pool looked great – I didn’t want him to think I was changing everything because of him. After that, I would get into the pool with him, help him do his exercises, get him out, and then I might swim for a little bit. Folks saw me helping him and they started asking if I could, for example, help with their dad who was having difficulties – so I started that as a little business of helping people. When we moved to California, I wanted to continue that. We found a sports club that needed a swim coach, and I took group-exercise and helped the elderly folks in the pool. I would ride my bike to the club, and other able-bodied people who were swimming saw me and said they would ride with me, after. So, that’s how it started. It was just me helping people. Once I liked the swimming and the biking, I thought, “Well gosh, I’ve always been a runner,” and that led to me getting a certification to coach Triathlon, and it’s become much bigger than that.

How has it evolved over the years?

Right now, I take about thirty clients. Ten of them are bucket-listers: I might train someone for the Camino Santiago [a pilgrimage trail in Spain], or to climb Mt. Rainier, or kari-duane-207x300maybe they want to complete the twelve-mile swim around the island of Key West. About one-third are triathletes or are training for a specific sporting event, and then the other one-third are weight-loss clients. I also run online groups.

Oftentimes, people view success without consideration for the effort that went into achieving that success. You and your husband have six kids, the youngest of which are triplets!  Additionally, as a spouse, I presume that we all want to nurture the friendship and intimacy of that relationship as well:

  • How do you motivate yourself? How do you stay motivated to balance your profession and your family?
  • Did you have days where you doubted your ability to achieve the goals you’d set for yourself?  If so, how did you recover from that doubt? 

Definitely, yes, on that one [the doubt]. Definitely, yes! I only let my career grow as my family life would permit. Family has always been my priority. It shaped things. I don’t like doing a bad job, so there have been times when I wouldn’t take on another client. Right now, I have thirty. But that number used to be six, and I started with three. One year, I had a waitlist because I wouldn’t take on more; I couldn’t take on more. I would have failed! I had days where I wasn’t a great mom, where I felt epic failure, for whatever it was. Dave and I just regrouped and we tried to check back in with the priorities. We have always prioritized the kids. Always. David worked from home, before most people worked from home. He passed up promotions when our kids were little because he wanted to be, and needed to be, a hands-on dad. So yes, I had epic-failure days at work; epic-failure days as a mom; and all of those failures just made us come back to our priority, which was always the kids. So, I have apologized a lot to clients! I try to give them the human side of me, and I try to stay authentic with integrity. My husband had some health challenges earlier this year, and our triplets were preparing to graduate from high school. I knew I wanted to be available to him and our children, so I went to each of my clients to let them know that my family was my priority. I gave them an option: I either needed to drop them, or I could give them a discounted program for the month, but they would not be getting my customary attention during that time. They all agreed, because they knew that it was a specific issue with Dave, and they value me as a coach, as I value them. So, integrity, authenticity – all of that is huge.

When you have doubted yourself, how did you recover from that doubt? Was it just you and David coming together and getting back to that initial priority of the kids or was it some other process, self-inspiration that you do?

Oh, that one I might need to think about for a bit. Hmmm, it’s different now. I think when the kids were here, I…oh my gosh, I had triplet teenagers! Talk about doubting yourself! I mean, oh goodness, that was an undertaking. I would say doubt was daily, sometimes hourly, and sometimes, a week would go by where I didn’t come back to myself.

It’s just kinda survival mode? You’re not thinking about it, you’re just getting through each minute?

That’s right. And we’ve just come out of that, so life really has changed in the last – I mean we are in such an incredible, rewarding moment right now because of what we just came out of: Senior year is hard, no matter what. It was hard with Quinn; it was hard with Addison; it was hard with Holland; because it’s like a bunch of adults living in the house – it would be kind of like an unfriendly adult being in your house everyday, saying, “You know, give me ten bucks.” And you’re like, “Wait a minute, you’re not that friendly. If you want to act like an adult and take the ten dollars to do whatever you want to do with it – Hold on here!”

The Senior year with three of them, was me basically saying on a daily basis, “I am not a piece of %^$@.” With three of them, at some point each day, I got to hear, no matter what it was that was upsetting them, that Dave and I were awful parents. So, right now, we are in a phase where they now know, for the first time, that we’re not awful! It’s refreshing. Delightful. I recently got a text from my son, acknowledging some of what I did while they were growing up that he didn’t notice at the time. He expressed gratitude and love, because he is now going through all of the steps to take care of himself! We are in such an incredible gift of life right now, that all that doubt and all that anguish is slowly disappearing. One of the girls calls me every night to say goodnight, and to tell me that she misses and loves me. She couldn’t wait to get rid of us, and now she calls me every night!

Kids are very different from adults in their abilities to get things done. Did you develop a different leadership style at work with your clients vs. at home with your kids? If so, did your professional leadership change how you led at home?

Definitely. My passion at work drives me to read every single thing that I can get my hands on about how to be better at something; how to learn something…We were away with family this weekend, and I snuck away to read articles on digestive health! I’m just passionate about all kinds of stuff like that; so, definitely, it would influence what I was doing at home with the kids. I am certified in youth and junior coaching, and I took away three great things from that, which helped me with my teens and even my kids, that I vividly live by:

  • Boys have to play good to feel good.
  • Girls have to feel good to play good.

That translates a lot into life, because I think, underneath, everybody is an athlete. I really believe that; I solidly believe that. So, if a boy has to play good to feel good, then I think that translates into other areas of his life. If a girl has to feel good to play good, then I think that translates into other areas of her life; and it definitely helped with my dialogue with my teens, who were very active. Spencer [her son] would come home from something in the worst mood, and instead of me responding to his mood, I would think, “Oh, I bet he had a bad practice.” That really helped. And with the girls, a lot of times they would be the opposite. They would start getting testy, or nervous if they felt a little out of sync with me, before going into a big game, or something like that. So, yes, it definitely helped, especially during the teen years. The third thing I learned:

  • Kids of this generation: you have to earn their respect.

We automatically respected coaches; but today, high-school-age kids don’t go into a classroom automatically respecting the teacher. The teacher needs to earn their respect. I knew, on bad days with my team, that I needed to earn their respect. You can’t tell your teen to not go out drinking, and then come home, yourself, drunk from a party. It can’t happen. I was super aware of all of that.

Balancing motherhood and a profession: what do you feel you have sacrificed, either personally or professionally, at each stage of this career?

The mom guilt. I put the family first, but I sacrificed some time with my kids, definitely, for work. I don’t like to do things that I don’t do to the best of my ability, and I sacrificed picking up more work because there weren’t enough hours in the day. I sacrificed some, on both ends, I think. We were going through some old things when the triplets were in eighth grade, and I came across a journal that one of them had written when she was little. As I flipped through the pages to see what it was (I didn’t realize at first that it was a journal), the words, “bike ride,” popped out at me. I read that section, and she had written, “My mom is on a bike ride again,” with a sad face next to it. That was in the eighth grade. She probably had to learn to do other things, at that time; and she was a quiet kid, so I didn’t know any of that. I’ve also had all of my kids take a color-personality test; so, based on our colors and their meanings, I can try to adjust my responses to each of the kid’s personalities. You know, your kids are all different, and the challenge is they get the same mom.

How has your husband, David, supported you through the choices you have made re: your family life and your professional life?

Oh my gosh, he is
everything to my life-equation. Everything. He has stayed steady in the same job – the same field – for years; probably sacrificing some of his interests to stay consistent so that I could be inconsistent in the amounts of money that I earn, based on the needs of our family. Or so that I could meet the need of a family member that was going through something. One of our kids recently went through a difficult experience and needed my attention more than she usually did. Each night, David and I went through our calendars, making adjustments so that I could be available to her. He changed things, and picked up things. He is everything.

What have you learned about yourself through this combined experience of parenting and business?

Well, that’s an interesting question. This past weekend, David said to me, “Kari, you’re like a project manager with this family.” He just gets blown away, when he spends time with me, to see who’s calling and what they’re calling for, and all the stuff that I do, such as keeping clients accountable to their goals or managing their schedules – whether it’s a training schedule or something with logistics. So, parenting and business are very similar. The hard part, sometimes, was that I needed to spend a little more time in “feeling” mode. I definitely tell my kids and my family I love them much more often than I think I used to. I have probably learned that my two jobs aren’t exactly that different, but what’s different is that I’m really, on a gut level, super emotionally invested in the outcome of my family. If I work with a client, what they do with that information – if they cross the finish line or drop fifty pounds – whatever it is that they’re doing, I can guide them, gently nudge them, give them the information, and then help them with how they’re processing it, and then they either succeed or they don’t. I can do that, also, with my children, but during that process I need to convey that I love them. So, I can’t coach them. I can’t coach them! I need to be their mom, and I’ve learned that I have to make an effort to show that the feelings are present.

That is great to learn that: that you have to parent your kids, you can’t coach your kids.

I definitely can’t coach them. And Angel, I have loved every minute of them saying, candy-956555_1280“Mom, pick up M&M’s at the store,” and then I’m at the store with the M&M’s and I run into a client, and they say, “Kari, I wouldn’t have thought you’d be an M&M person?” And I’m like, “Uh-oh. Well, guess what? My kids are their own people.” I’ve done that with Haagen-Dazs as well! It’s been fun.

If you could go back and begin all of this again with the knowledge and experience that you have learned, is there anything that you would do differently?

[Long pause]. I’m going to say, yes, for sure. Wow. A ton of stuff. I go right to my family. But, are you talking about the job/life balance, would I balance it differently?

No, not balance in particular. Just, if there’s anything that stands out to you that you would do differently, maybe about pursuing your career, having six kids, I guess balancing it, just anything that stands out to you over the last thirty years. Is there anything you think you would do differently?

No. Not as it pertains to work/life balance and always prioritizing family. NO. But as it pertains to five million parenting decisions? YES. [Here, Kari and I spoke about some hilarious, but probably controversial parenting decisions that she and David have made over the years. Unfortunately, I did not get her permission to share those stories prior to setting this story to publish, so our readers are out of luck in that regard.].

What is the BEST and the WORST decision you have ever made? Make sure it’s something you are comfortable having in print! Not necessarily parenting or business, just anywhere in general.

The best decision was marrying David. Definitely.

The worst is – oh golly, yeah, you’re right – I have five-thousand decisions I don’t want to see in print! Gosh, what am I okay with having out there?!

You could refrain from answering and I could write that you refrained!

Just tell them the list is too long! Gosh, I really, honestly, don’t know what would be the worst. I’m going to say – well, what comes to mind is not taking care of myself in certain situations. Because if you do self-care, then you don’t make those decisions. Or if you did make a bad decision, you learn from it. So I would say the worst decision that I’ve ever made is not taking care of myself.

That’s a good one, actually! That’s a good one for women to understand because if they don’t take care of themselves – I mean, it’s like on an airplane when you’re supposed to give yourself oxygen first.

Exactly! Or, if you go into a conversation with a teenager, and you’re sleep-deprived and completely stressed because your husband is having a medical issue, then you’re probably not bringing your best self to it. I would have said something wrong. When my kids were young, I did not think of yelling as being a huge deal, but now I think that yelling is a huge deal. I think when a big person yells at a little person, that is a big deal. I think it’s okay for some people, some personalities, but now, I can picture some of my kids when they were young shriveling up into a corner at hearing the yelling.

Today, your kids are college-age and older, and you’ve just become a grandmother. What does “time for Kari” look like now versus when your kids were younger and at home?

I am really aware of only knowing what I know up to this point, right? We have had maybe ten nights of empty-nesting, so that’s how brand new this is. During those nights, with six of them, it just seems like there are still a lot of parenting things going on. I’m really new at it, and my personal time hasn’t really changed yet, but I think it will. By this time next year, I will answer that question differently. I do have this new feeling of, “I can get to things at my house when I want to.” I don’t have to worry if the counter has something on it, that it needs to get cleaned off to serve dinner. That’s a new feeling. The timing of when I do things -– when I do them – now feels like a little bit more of my own.

Did you know that you were so good at managing multiple projects and people before you had this large family?

No. I have spent years saying I was the type of person who could only do one thing at a time because I want to be able to give 100% to whatever it is I am doing. You can’t do that when your attention is split. When I had kids, I didn’t even feel like my life was coming back together until my baby – whomever that was – was about three. I was just focused on that baby and I felt like I could only do one thing properly at a time. Then I had triplets! I think that was God’s way of  telling me to try to do the best that I could, but that perfection might not be attainable, and to do the best that I could in different areas. And also, I had one child and managed that. Then a second baby. Ok, I can manage two. Then I had three, and okay, I can project-manage that. Holy smokes, now I have six? I need to redefine “project managing” in and of itself!

And how did you do that? Did you reach out to outside sources? Did you look for other people who were experienced? Did you read books? Or was it purely just a learning-on-the-job kind of thing?

It really was “learning on the job.” My mentor is my friend, Becky, in Ohio. She has eight children. I was constantly asking her questions. Constantly. She told me “Kari, you don’t have to be the room-mom. You can be there on the day of the party, and your kid will be just as excited.” So, I redefined “project managing,” but I also had to grasp structure – way more structure after the triplets were born – and that’s what I did. My kids now speak highly of the “structure.” For example, we ate dinner at three o’clock in the afternoon when they came home from school, so they wouldn’t eat a bunch of junk food. They remember that fondly. Each one of them can tell you their bedtimes at different stages of their lives. 

How did you learn that structure?

Honestly, I think it started… well, it really was self-taught. We had the triplets all in one area of the house. During the day, when they were babies, we had them in one room. At night, they were in the same area to sleep, and those were the two rooms. The rest of the house was a baby-free zone for the other kids to operate in. We would take things to the triplets, so the rest of the house could still function. But when I was with the triplets and it was time for one of the other kids to go to bed, it just sort-of fell into place. We would put the triplets down for the night at 7; David and I would spend time with Holland from 7-7:30, then she would go to bed. At 7:30, we would spend time with Addison. If I was feeling guilty during the day, because I wanted to help Addie on a school project but I was with a baby, I would say, “Addie, think about what we’re going to do tonight during our time together.” Then Quinn’s time with us was 8-9. She got an hour because she was four years older, and because she was getting into middle school, we found we needed more time with her. Then from 9-10, David and I had one hour together. Otherwise, it was everybody, everywhere, all the time.

It was so structured! I remember when the triplets were about three-and-a-half and we went out to watch fireworks one night, in our little town. As we were driving home, Avery said, “What’s that?” I didn’t know what she was pointing at, and then I realized it was a headlight. She had never seen one! They had not seen headlights before – that’s how structured we were! They had not previously been out in a car at night. We didn’t have family in town. People would come in to our house; we didn’t go out! That was really eye-opening. It didn’t harm them, clearly, but we did start taking them out more after that night.

Final question, and thank you so much for spending all of this time with me, doing this. If you could name one woman, who would that be that inspires you, and why? And of course, if there’s more than one, that’s fine.

Betsy Stretar. She’s been amazing. She’s a little bit older than me, and she’s a mom of eight. Right now, she’s doing a blog called Emptynestmama – she started that a couple of years ago. She taught classes on parenting, and she’s a spiritual leader – she has some kind of theological degree. She’s a writer right now, and, I love this about her: two years ago, she took a job as a flight attendant because she wanted travel benefits. Her husband is a school-teacher and a coach, and the kids were out of the house. I learn a lot from her, and I know she would say the same about me. Which is funny now that I think about it. But I really admire her, and how she is with her career choices. Betsy became a flight attendant because she wanted to travel, but she still wants to know and to lead people, so she started her blog. She also does some guidance, and she has all the kids and the grandkids. Anyway, I admire her.

I’m also inspired by my mother-in-law and my own mother, for different reasons. My mother-in-law, Betsy Duane: every single one of her kids and her grandkids know how much they are loved by her. And my mother, Mary-Pat Sherman. I admire her because I now know some of the obstacles that she’s overcome in her life, and they’re big. I didn’t appreciate them when I was younger – how could I? But I see her in a different light now, and to see her in her seventies, still thriving and contributing, and always helping people. I just admire that.

That was my last question!

Oh my gosh, Angel. This was great for me, too! At this time in my life, just kind-of reviewing. Some days, I wonder – did all of that really happen? Did we really raise all of these kids, and now they’re all gone? It’s the weirdest feeling. I mean, it’s the weirdest feeling. It’s been twelve years since Quinn [their oldest child] lived with us. It’s shocking. You really do realize that the time that you have with your kids in your home is truly only a blip in your life. I mean, if you look at your life – let’s just say you live until you’re eighty – I mean, it’s just a blip. It’s hard to remember that, when you’re in the middle of it.


To learn more about Kari’s coaching:

To listen to her discuss health & wellness:






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