Female Triathlete of the Year: Jennifer Kilinski

Seeley Gutierrez, January 2012

The Gulf Winds Triathlete of the Year Award, presented since 1999,  is given to a triathlete who is active in the club, whose love of triathlon is demonstrated not only in competition, but also in commitment, service and inspiration. This year’s female recipient exceeds the aforementioned criteria, so much so I think she must have an identical twin that she sends out to perform various duties on her behalf. There is no way one person can balance family, work, training, and volunteer service at the high level of quality this person has.

Let’s begin by looking at this athlete’s results from 2011. She garnered 5 overall wins, 1 second place overall, 2 second place age group titles, and a top ten in her age group at Ironman Florida. She was the overall champion in the Jacksonville Sprint Triathlon and won the Gulf Winds Triathletes Grand Prix. 
Based on these results, it’s pretty easy to figure out who this year’s winner is. And, since I think she already knows, I’m just gonna let the cat out of the bag. This year’s Female Triathlete of the Year is Jennifer Kilinski.

But before she receives her award, let me talk about her a little bit. 2011 was a far cry from Jennifer’s humble triathlon beginnings, when she raced in the Athena division, a category she obviously does not qualify for anymore. Her husband, Jeff, sent me results from her first triathlon, the Tom Landry Triathlon, held May 5, 2001. She finished as the third Athena, just a minute ahead of twelve year old Chase Smith. I wonder what’s happened to little Chase and the girls who finished ahead of Jennifer. 
Jeff says those early days of Jennifer’s triathlon life were filled with Jennifer pushing guys in the pool (not much has changed there) and early morning track workouts. Surely one of the highlights of her athletic life came when she was asked to try out for the Dallas Diamonds, a women’s professional football team. Not many female endurance athletes can say they’ve been asked to be on a football team!

Fortunately for Tallahassee, Jennifer left Texas and moved here. She had her son Wyatt, completed law school, and had her daughter Eleanor. 2011 was her first year racing a full season, despite starting it with a broken pelvis. I knew of Jennifer’s athletic accomplishments when I nominated her for this award. And I knew she was a loving and caring mother and wife and a busy attorney. What I wasn’t aware of was her commitment to community service. She recently incorporated a new non-profit foundation called “Kids Who Tri.” The goal of the foundation is to get grants and other funding for healthy kid initiatives and activities. They hope to go into public schools and host nutrition and exercise workshops and give out bikes and helmets to students.

She is also an active part of her law firm’s Habitat for Humanity’s build project. And she volunteers at her son’s school and with his extracurricular activities, like football (she was almost a pro football player at one point, remember?). She offered her help at many local races, including Springtime, Red Hills, and both kids triathlons. She tries to focus her out of office commitments on groups and projects where her kids can participate and see the positive impact of the group’s efforts.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Jennifer took on this year was Ironman Florida…wait no, that’s not it. It was being a first time race director for the Tri the Rez triathlon, which took place a month before Ironman Florida. I’ve never done an Ironman, but I think the 4-6 weeks before the race would involve some pretty intense training, probably the longest workouts and hardest sessions of your training plan. Most people would come home, eat, say hi to their family, and go to bed. Jennifer didn’t have that luxury. Instead, she volunteered to direct a race. And this wasn’t some little old 5k in Tom Brown Park. This was a triathlon, with traffic and permitting nightmares I can’t begin to fathom. It was a success, of course. She worked with a number of national and local sponsors to offset the cost of the race. She also staged a series of first timers clinics, numbering up to 50 people, teaching them the ins and outs of triathlon. She added a collegiate division, which doubled the number of participants. Racers came from all over the state to participate solely for that reason.

Perhaps the thing that has stood out to me the most about Gulf Winds is the number of people who reach out to beginners and newcomers. Ray Hanlon was my guide when I first got involved in running and Gulf Winds, and people like Lynn Powell, Felton Wright, Mary Jane Tappen, and Bruce Lynn reached out to me when I needed all the help I could get with triathlons. All these people basically changed my life…for the better, of course. Jennifer is doing the same with new triathletes. One of her friends and training partners, Annette Wilson, had this to say about her. “As a newbie to the sport, she is a great example and leader to me. I know that by meeting her I have become a better triathlete and also a better human being. I now do my best to pay it forward to my community through volunteering and encouraging others in my community through her example.” These words, I think, are the epitome of what this award is supposed to symbolize.

Jennifer Kilinski, please come forward to accept the Female Triathlete of the Year Award.