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Focus on Fitness: rescue commander represents Team USA in triathlon.

Thomas Paine, one of America's Founding Fathers, said, "The harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph."

While he's far from a revolutionary, Lt. Cot. Joel Kinnunen knows a little about conflict and triumph. As an accomplished triathlete, Colonel Kinnunen. who serves as commander of the 305th Rescue Squadron at Portland International Airport, Ore., had a goal of representing the United States in this year's World Triathlon Championships in Hamburg, Germany.

While attending the Combat Rescue Officer's Course at Kirtland Air Force Base. N.M., last December, his dream was dealt a crushing blow when he suffered a severe knee injury. Facing a long and very difficult recover, and with the World Championships scheduled for Sept. I, the prospects of attaining his goal weren't good.


In the world of sports, the difference between winning and losing often lies in how a person deals with adversity. Colonel Kinnunen decided to deal with the challenge he faced the way any world-class athlete would and the only way he knew how: by throwing himself 100 percent into his rehabilitation.

A little more than six months later, after spending countless hours getting his knee back into shape, the colonel found himself standing at the doorstep of achieving his goal. Rut to walk through that door and earn a spot on Team USA, he would first have to finish in the top 16 in his age bracket, 40-44, in the National Triathlon Championships in Beaverton, Ore.

Colonel Kinnunen finished the race in 19th place, just three spots away from automatically qualifying for the World would make it.

Because the event is held in different locations around the world each year, and participating can be very expensive, many people who qualify choose not to compete. So, it was possible that enough people would decide not to participate to give Colonel Kinnunen a chance.

"I was kind of nervous about being 19th," he said. "But I figured 1 had a good shot at making it on the team."

He figured correctly.

At the World Championships Sept. 1, Colonel Kinnunen faced a field of 132 competitors in his age bracket. But, once again, his health proved to be a greater threat. "I got food poisoning a few days before the race," he said. "I wasn't able to eat very well, and I got a little dehydrated. Come race day, I wasn't sure how I would do."

He said he started off a little slow in the first event, a 1,500-meter swim, to test his body. The colonel said he felt pretty-good and got stronger as the other two events, a 40-kilometer bike ride and a 10-kilometer run, unfolded. He finished the competition in a time of 2 hours and 14 minutes.

"I finished 54th out of 132," Colonel Kinnunen said. "it was a little slower than 1 expected, but under the circumstances not too bad."

The colonel will have an opportunity to improve on his finish next year as he is already qualified for the event, which is scheduled to be held in Vancouver, Canada.

(Sergeant Babit is assigned to the 920th Rescue Wing public affairs office at Patrick AFB, Ha. The 305th RQS is part of the wing. He wrote the story while on a temporary duty assignment in Portland.)

By Master Sgt. Chance C. Babin
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Babin, Chance C.
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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