Karen Smyers has been racing as a professional triathlete for 22 years.She has won numerous National and World Championship titles, including a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships in 1995. Her victory at the short-course Triathlon World Championship just 5 weeks later still distinguishes her as the only woman ever to win triathlon’s two most prestigious races in the same year.
Subsequently, she endured the challenge of a severed hamstring muscle, a time-out for the birth of her daughter, a knockdown by an eighteen-wheeler while cycling, and a battle with thyroid cancer.Undaunted, she returned to world-class competition to win her seventh Elite National Championship title.As the oldest triathlete on the pro circuit at age 45, she is defying conventional wisdom by continuing to win races and place in the Top 12 of the Ironman World Championships when her “contemporaries” have long since retired from professional competition.
Karen is approachable and down-to-earth and can identify with a wide range of audiences.She inspires others to make positive changes in their own lives.
She is able to incorporate topics such as:
Join the ranks of these happy clients:
- Blue Cross Blue Shield,RI, Worksite Health Awards, Keynote Speaker
- Accenture, International Women’s Day, Keynote Speaker
- Pan Mass Challenge, Heavy Hitters Dinner, Keynote Speaker
- Princeton Varsity Club, Featured Speaker
- Holy Cross, Invited Speaker
- Saucony’s “Find Your Strong”, Featured Speaker
- Prostate Cancer Foundation, VIP dinner, Featured Speaker
- Stonyfield Yogurt, Strong Women Summit, Motivational Speaker
- Combined Federal Campaign, MA, Motivational Speaker
- CEO Challenge Dinner, IM Lake Placid, Invited Speaker
- ThyCa Annual Conference, Presenter
- ME Principal’s Association, Mentoring Women in Sports V, Keynote Speaker
- Girl Scouts Career Day, Keynote Speaker
- NEHRSA Spring Conference, Keynote speaker
- Federal Women’s Program, Women’s History Month Celebration, Keynote Speaker
- Pine Manor College, Honorary Degree
- Boston University, Sargent College, Commencement Address
- Texas Conference for Women, Invited Speaker
- National Girls and Women in Sport Day, Keynote Speaker
- USA Triathlon, Race Director Symposium, Keynote Speaker
- Dozens of Triathlon and Running Clubs throughout the USA
Read what some of Karen’s audiences have had to say:
“I built you up to everyone at the Foundation as kind of a super-hero because that is the way I’ve always thought of you. You went way beyond expectations.”
Scott Zagarino, Prostate Cancer Foundation, Athletes for a Cure
“Thank you for traveling to Maine to share your inspiring story with our conference attendees. You were the hit of the day. The evaluations showed how much they appreciated you sharing your message.”
Larry LaBrie, Maine Principal’s Association
“Thank you so much for coming to our event yesterday, everyone really enjoyed your talk and it was one of the high points of the agenda.”
Kristel Kurtz, Accenture
“Thank-you for taking the time to attend our Pre-Marathon event. I received rave reviews
on your words of inspiration and encouragement.”
Mike Linnane, L Street running Club
“Your talk on “Mental Tactics For Success” was very inspiring and the crowd really loved it. We heard so much positive feed back after the meeting.”
Melinda Sowizral. AimTriTeam
“Karen I emailed you right after I heard your speech. I would love to have you in for one of my events. You could do the event exhibition or seriously…but more importantly is speaking before the event.You were so great! Brought tears to my eyes.”
Gloria West, midwestsportsevents.com
“I spoke to a couple of my members, Heather and Kris, who went to a tri-fury seminar which featured you last weekend. Their responses were the same as all of the other responses that I’ve heard in the past…What an inspiring woman; how motivating!; so much knowledge to share…”
Todd A. Crumb, Comprehensive Training Systems
“I caught myself laughing so many times during the presentation… Karen, you were so entertaining and motivating! Keep up the great attitude! Alan, you really know how to pick the “best of the best”!!!!!! “
Cheryl L. Teske, Assistant Controller, NM Transfer Co., Inc.
A Review of Karen’s Speech in The Princeton Review
“Smyers ’83 Discusses Trials of a Triathlete”
By Chris Dodds
Staff Writer, The Princeton Review
Published: Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Triathlete Karen Smyers won six national titles, three world championships, and the Ironman. Karen Smyers ’83, this year’s Jake McCandless ’51 Princeton Varsity Club speaker, is a world-class triathlete. Smyers won the national championships six consecutive years, the world championships three times and the Hawaii Ironman competition once. She also survived a bike crash with an 18-wheeler truck and thyroid cancer, and sportswriter Rick Reilly named her the “triathlete most likely to be eaten alive by a shark at the Sydney Olympics.”
Known as one of the most determined athletes alive in any sport, Smyers delivered an inspirational speech on Tuesday night in Richardson Auditorium to an audience of rougly 125 people about her career and the “four P’s” it takes to succeed in both athletics and life.
“Every athlete has to put up with setbacks and challenges throughout their careers, and I think to come and listen to a speech like this can help any athlete get some perspective on things,” freshman Pete Callahan of the men’s track and field team said after the talk.
Peter Farrell, head coach of the women’s track and field team, introduced Smyers: “Karen is the person sitting next to you. She’s your teammate; she’s your friend,” he said. “Genuine, humble and down to earth.”
When she showed up at a Princeton summer triathlon camp she ran one summer, Farrell said, Smyers shocked her mostly wealthy students by arriving “with what can only be described as the bike your parents left you under the Christmas tree when you were 13.”
“It was never about the bike for Karen,” Farrell added.
Coming from a family of seven, Smyers grew up playing sports with her older siblings. “But I had a little extra competitive fire,” Smyers said.
Smyers came to Princeton to swim, but once her season was over she decided to follow in her roommate’s footsteps and walk on to Farrell’s track team.
Smyers described how she decided to become a professional athlete when she won her first triathlon and discovered that she could have actually won money if she had checked the “professional” box on the registration form. When the company she was working at in Boston went bankrupt, Smyers decided to make the transition to running triathlons full time.
“The truth is that it was fear of getting a real job,” Smyers joked.
As Smyers began training full time, she discovered that success is based on what she calls the “four P’s: perseverance, positive attitude, perspective, and passion.”
Speaking about perseverance first, Smyers explained how she got into running at Princeton and then worked on her biking when she turned professional. She talked about how she would come out of the swimming leg near the lead but become “fresh pickings for anyone out there” during the biking leg, the second portion of the triathlon.
Smyers told herself that she “had to work on my weakness,” and biking is currently her strongest component of the triathlon.
Moving on to positive attitude, Smyers admitted that her second P “somewhat comes a little naturally to me. I’ve always tended to look at the bright side of things,” she said. After not getting recognized for her fourth-place finish at her second world championships, she came back the next year determined to
make the podium. Smyers was in second place for much of the race but was passed by two other competitors midway through the running component. A male competitor also running the race reminded her that “you have to want it,” and Smyers came from behind to win her first world championship.
“I had been in a very bad space in my head and turned it around, and in doing so I won the race,” she said.
“Stuff like that is so true,” sophomore Tommy Dialynas of the men’s track and field team said. “Sometimes all you need is a little wake-up call, whether it’s something that someone said or something you realize in your own mind.”
Smyers told a similar story about her Ironman championship, and she humorously concluded that “it’s 50 percent mental and 50 percent nutrition, so if you’ve been doing the math, there’s pretty much no physical component. If you just be happy and eat healthy you can win an Ironman.”
Another important example for her was recovering after she severed her hamstring while changing a storm window in her house. Smyers and her husband decided that her recovery would be the perfect time to have their first child.
“Looking back at things that have already happened that you can’t change is so nonproductive. Always finding the silver lining is the key,” she said.
When discussing perspective, Smyers noted that during her many recoveries, “I really had to examine my life and whether coming back to the sport was worth it, and whenever I did that I said, ‘Yes.’ ”
When things got really tough, and she had to simultaneously recover from thyroid cancer and a broken collarbone, Smyers, ever the one to stay positive, said she thought, “This is okay, I’m combining rehabs.”
Smyers delivered her final message with the fourth P, passion: “I didn’t always love the training, but I’ve always loved the racing,” she told the captivated audience. “So if you can find something you’re passionate about and can make it a part of your life, I really encourage you to do so.”