BOULDER, Colorado — For most women, the ideal time to start a professional athletic career wouldn't be after having three children.
But choosing between the sport she loves and the possibility of starting a family was an easy choice for Bountiful native and BYU All-American runner Nan Kennard.
"I didn't really think about getting into professional running," said Kennard, 29. "I was more interested in being a full-time mom. I didn't think I could do both."
It would take some time, and lots of juggling, but those initial doubts couldn't have been more wrong.
Kennard grew up playing basketball. But when she tried out for the Bountiful High basketball team, she was cut.
"I thought, 'I've got to do some kind of sport. What can I do?'" Kennard said. "My uncle (Hugh Evans), who is an assistant (running) coach at UVU right now, gave me the idea to be a distance runner."
She went out for track her junior year and realized rather quickly that she had a lot of natural ability.
A coach suggested she continue running into the fall by running with the Braves' cross country team. She set a state record in the 800 meters her senior year, and went on to run for BYU from 1999-2003. She earned All-American honors in the 3,000-meter Steeplechase and cross country.
She married Aaron Kennard in 2002 and two years later they had their first child, Abe, now 7. Two years later, she gave birth to Breanne, now five.
Pregnancy and nursing, as it turned out, were the perfect ways to rest her body.
"I couldn't run when I was pregnant," she said. "I got really sick. I didn't have any calories to spare."
She said despite her success in the sport, the decision to give up running wasn't something that caused her any angst.
"I had a lot of talent," she said. "Running came really easily to me. But I thought I'd rather be a mom."
It was after Breanne's birth that she started running again, but this time it was just for enjoyment. She was running an hour or two each day and it didn't take her long to realize, the sport wasn't finished with her.
"I realized if I can keep working at this, I have the potential to get to a really high level," she said. "And then a lot of blessings, a lot of stars aligned."
First, the family moved to Boulder, Colorado, for her husband's career in real estate. She said piece after piece of the puzzle began to fit into place.
"We kind of knew," she said. "I found the right coach, the right house, the people around us were supporting us. All I can say is God is taking care of us. I feel like I wouldn't be able to do it without my faith (LDS/Mormon) and my husband's support."
As she continued to pursue her running aspirations, she had her third child, Ali, 2. Supporting his wife's pursuit of a running career was an easy decision for the man who knows her best.
"I have always loved supporting her in running because it makes her so happy," Aaron Kennard said. "It just naturally evolved into her becoming a professional runner. I love the fact that she does it. I see how much happiness she gets from it. And she has such a talent and she's maximizing it. It has always just felt right."
Nan said like many working moms, she is constantly trying to balance the demands of family life with the requirements of a career in professional sports. She blogs about her running experiences at www.nankennard.com.
"I do the best that I can," she said simply. "I run less weekly mileage that most elite runners. And I do take every Sunday off."
Instead of running 90-120 miles a week, she runs 60-75 miles.
"I do quality," she said. "My coach knows what he's doing and I have amazing support."
That support has enabled Kennard to be competitive at the sport's highest levels. In January, she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which could qualify her for the 2012 Summer Games in London.
"The Olympics has not been a lifetime dream for me," she said. "It's cool to watch the Olympics, I love how it all comes together. For me, it's not all about the Olympics. For me, it's more about having the daily blessing of having the strength to do what I love to do."
If Kennard earns a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, she will be faced with a difficult dilemma.
"I'd love to go," she said. "But at the Olympics, the marathon is on a Sunday. I choose not to race on Sunday. I want to honor the Sabath. There will be big decisions for me to make, and obviously I will pray about it."
She knows a lot of other LDS athletes who've faced the decision, and each of them handles it differently — and personally.
"I know a lot of other LDS athletes have chosen to compete on Sundays," she said. "My choice is not to do that, and it's been a huge blessing to me not to have to worry about racing on Sunday."
Her husband believes it is one of the reasons they have such a solid family life.
"She keeps everything in perspective," Aaron Kennard said. "The weekdays get packed with running, working out, taking care of the kids, but the weekend is all about family time. Sunday is all about church and the kids."
Nan's been warned by other BYU athletes that racing on Sunday is an inevitability. Most of the top races are on Sunday, but she said there are options for a professional who hopes to avoid Sunday races.
"I could make winning Boston my lifetime goal," she said of the historic race that is always on a Monday. She struggled in this year's Boston Marathon with intense pain in her left leg. She finished with a time of 2:38:12 (22nd place overall).
Finding the right balance is not always easy — as any mother knows.
"We have hurdles," said Nan. "Sometimes the kids need me and running takes a backseat to that."
Her own mother questioned whether she really wanted to undertake such a physically demanding career with three little children at home.
"She asked me if this is for sure what I wanted to do," Nan Kennard said. "She said, 'You're asking your family to make sacrifices.'"
Both Nan and Aaron Kennard are certain this is what she is meant to be doing with her life.
"I just feel like God is calling me to do this," she said. "Pieces of the puzzle have just fallen in place. If I stop feeling like that, I hope I am humble enough to recognize it. It will have a life span, and it will be over at some point. Then I will move onto something else."
But, at least for now, she hopes what she is doing professionally is also teaching her children something about the possibilities in their own lives.
"I want to be a good example to them of maximizing your talent," she said. "My kids are an inspiration to me. I definitely think about them when I'm running. They think that's just the purpose of life, to find what you're good at and then go out and do it."
And maybe an equally important lesson is that she is showing them how important it is to find joy in what they choose to do.
"I am a runner at heart," she said. "I would run whether I got paid or not."
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