Lawrence couple excel in triathlons

Lawrence optometrist Kent Dobbins won the 65-69 division at the Ironman World Championship 70.3 on Nov. 14 in Clearwater, Fla. His wife, Liz, finished fifth in her division.

At the Ironman World Championship 70.3 on Nov. 14 in Clearwater, Fla., one Lawrence couple stood happily on the winner’s podium.

Kent and Liz Dobbins have been training for the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run for nearly 17 months, and their dedication paid off. Kent won his 65-69 age group, and Liz finished fifth in the 55-59 group.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Ryan Robinson, race director for Ironman Kansas and Ironman Branson and friend of the couple. “It’s amazing that they participate at the level they do and perform as well as they do. But they’re so humble about it, you wouldn’t know they’re so talented.”

The couple did not begin participating in triathlons together. Kent picked up the sport when a friend mentioned he would be participating.

“I didn’t know how to swim, and I didn’t have a bike, but I just said, ‘Hey, why not?'” Kent said. “Learning how to swim was the most difficult thing I ever did. Then I started to have a little bit of success in my races, and that made me want to work harder.”

In 1985, Liz’s father developed heart problems, so she searched for a sport that would keep her active all her life.

“I took a stress test, and the physician asked if I wanted to do a triathlon. I didn’t know what that was,” Liz said. “Even though I’d been active my whole life, I wanted to be able to age gracefully.”

Kent, an optometrist, and Liz, a physical-education teacher at Shawnee Heights Middle School, met at a race and have continued to support each other through 4 a.m. workouts and 14 years of marriage.

“We’re always challenging each other,” Liz said. “I have to keep up with Kent. I was so glad to be up on the podium with him.”

The Dobbinses typically run or swim on alternate mornings and bike every evening. They shared the goal of making it in the top five at the World Championships.

“It’s kind of our life,” Kent said. “We work and work out. To be a triathlon athlete, you can’t be too bright. You can’t have much of a life. And you need a very understanding spouse.”

The grueling 70.3-mile course demands about 20 hours of training every week.

“It’s really a blue-collar sport,” Robinson said. “There’s no easy way to do it. You can’t just show up on race day having been on the couch the last few months. But the Dobbinses are always there for the Lawrence triathlon community to lend a helping hand or give some advice or just be good company on a hard training day.”

Kent’s finish was his first world championship win, and Liz broke a personal record when she completed the course in under 5 hours, 30 minutes. But the most memorable part of the race for Kent was finding out that his wife would be on the podium with him.

“I’ve really enjoyed having a partner to share these experiences,” Liz said.