New triathlete Rhinehart gives hope to stroke survivors

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The triathlon trail is full of feel good stories of people overcoming the odds to accomplish something that, at first, did not seem possible. Kevin Rhinehart is one of those stories.

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The triathlon trail is full of feel good stories of people overcoming the odds to accomplish something that, at first, did not seem possible. Kevin Rhinehart is one of those stories.

Rhinehart, who is registered for today’s IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii triathlon, is a relatively newcomer to the sport and also a stroke survivor.

Life was going good for Rhinehart as the new year started in 2012. Living in Idaho, Rhinehart was very involved in his psychotherapy practice, while also finding time to play his bass and go fly fishing.

“There was never a dull moment,” he said.

However, life threw Rhinehart a curveball on January 24, 2012. After a busy day at work, Rhinehart decided to work out to a DVD with his son and his son’s friend. Not long into the workout, Rhinehart suddenly felt exhausted and laid down on the floor. Moments later his son reported that this father tried to sit up but couldn’t. His face also contorted and his speech was impaired.

“He thought I was having a stroke,” Rhinehart said. “I asked him later why he thought this and he said he had seen it on TV.”

An ambulance arrived in about 15 minutes and transported Rhinehart to the hospital. At the time, he had no idea what was going on.

“I didn’t know why I was being transported to the hospital and I didnt really care, it was a strange feeling,” Rhinehart said. “I wasn’t scared. My mind was just blank.”

Many people die from strokes each year, and recovering from one is a very long and difficult road. The days, weeks and even months after the stroke were not easy for Rhinehart. He had trouble speaking, standing and even swallowing. He had to quit his job and give up playing the bass.

At first, he thought his life was over.

“Life was confusing,” Rhinehart said. “I didn’t really know what happened to me. I was discharged to another hospital and it was there that I received a pamphlet on strokes and I said ‘I had a stroke.’ I had been told many times before but this is this first time I realized what had happened.”

One of the toughest things to deal with during the early going in the hospital was the lack of freedom. Rhinehart said that he could not do anything on his schedule. It was all on the hospital’s schedule. The food wasn’t very good either.

“I had to eat blended food and it was gross,” he said. “They would blend a pork chop and then put it together to try and make it look like a pork chop.”

Rhinehart was also diagnosed with a neurological disorder called aphasia which affects speech. This was a difficult pill to swallow for someone with a master’s degree, who prided himself on the way he spoke. Aphasia affects a person’s ability to express and understand written and spoken language. For Rhinehart, it meant that he would sometimes say the wrong thing without knowing he was doing it.”

“As an example, I would see a paper clip and call it a thumb tack or a scallop,” Rhinehart joked.

Slowly, but steadily, life began to improve for the man who never seemed to lose his sense of humor. He attended speech, occupational and physical therapy regularly.

“My wife, son and daughter were all a lot of help,” Rhinehart said. “Everyone was a lot of help, even when I didn’t feel like I needed it. Sometimes I just wanted a little alone time, but everyone was afraid that I might have another stroke.”

After about 18 months, Rhinehart began working out again. He starting riding his bike short distances and swimming. One particular day that really stands out was when he was able to complete 10 miles on the bike and swim 200 yards.

“I was really proud of myself,” Rhinehart said. “It was slow and I had no idea at the time I would being doing IRONMAN. I just wanted to get in shape and use up some of my downtime.”

In June of 2015, Rhinehart decided to leave Idaho and head to Hawaii, where he took up residency on the Big Island. Four months later, he would find his calling while volunteering at the IRONMAN World Championships.

“I was there and I thought to myself that I could do this,” Rhinehart said. “What was I thinking? I had only ran once a year and that was to only remind myself how much I don’t like running.”

Rhinehart started by running for one mile, which he admitted was more of a walk/run. From there, he found a coach in Rick Rubio, and one month later entered his first triathlon — the 8th annual (Tri)ptophan Turkey Day race. Rhinehart managed to complete the 1/3 mile swim, 16 mile bike and 2 mile run course, finishing in the last half of the field.

Races escalated quickly from there. Rhinehart, who is sponsored by Bike Works, competed his first 70.3 mile triathlon when he entered Team Mango’s Mini Monster on Feb. 14. He also raced in Lavaman on Apr. 10. Now he prepares for the much more challenging Honu.

“Survival is No. 1,” Rhinehart said on his expectations and game plan for IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii. “I have to pay attention to my pace and not get caught up in all the craziness going on around me. There are a lot of really good athletes out there.”

Rhinehart is amazed at how far he has come in so little time.

“I went from couch potato to distance runs in four to five months,” he said. “Who does that?”

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After completing Honu, Rhinehart has no plans to slow down. In fact, he is doing the exact opposite. Rhinehart plans to compete in the IRONMAN Vineman in California on July 30, his first full IRONMAN race. His ultimate goal is to compete in the IRONMAN World Championships in October.

“The IRONMAN World Championships would be roughly a year since I began training and it would be very big if I can finish,” a choked up Rhinehart said. “I want to give other stroke survivors hope, that is why I do this. I want to show that a stroke is not the end of your life, it is just a new beginning.”