It’s such a great honor to introduce you to this week’s fabulous Smarty Mom, Koren Ayers! I was SO excited when Koren agreed to be a Smarty Mom because I just think she is such an inspiration. She’s a great example of how we never have to stop challenging ourselves physically and mentally – even when we feel completely depleted with the sometimes overwhelming tasks ahead of us as moms.
When I first met her, I knew Koren was some sort of athlete – you just look at her and know – but then I got to know her and her sweet family more and found out she had recently returned to swimming after a hiatus. Her goal was to make US Masters Swimming Nationals, and guess what? She did it. Yep, something that cool can actually happen to one of us Charlotte moms who swims lap after lap at the indoor pool. Pretty impressive, huh? Her background is just as impressive and shows you that EVERYONE you meet – the lady next to you in carpool, other soccer moms, your co-room mom – has a story to tell. They just need to be asked sometimes :-).
Koren has this amazingly warm spirit and energy that people are just drawn to – one look at her and you want to be friends. Period. She has a great husband and three of the cutest boys in all the land (her youngest is just edible!). I guarantee you that her story will inspire you to pursue a dream. Smarties, meet Koren Ayers!
Smarty Mom Koren Ayers
Married to: Greg Ayers, 15 years this month
Children: Alex 7, William 6, Andrew 3
Years in Charlotte: 2
Hometown: Paramus, NJ
Alma Mater: University of South Carolina
You must’ve been an athlete growing up – what sports did you play and did you play in high school and college?
I started swimming competitively at age 7. I had one goal and that was the Olympics… I swam twice a day every day but Sunday from the time I was 11 until I retired in college, about 25 hours a week in the pool. I swam for a club team called New Jersey Wave throughout my childhood. I competed and won states for my high school even though we didn’t have a high school team. I swam at University of South Carolina. Besides school, there wasn’t time for much else. Although, I didn’t play other sports-I am an avid sports fan. I love to go and watch it all.
Did you take a break from sports after becoming a wife and mother?
I took a break after getting married. I was burnt out. My body needed a rest. Once I became a mother, I turned back to it. I worked in the fashion industry in NYC until I had Alex. My hours didn’t leave much time for exercising. After I had Alex, I started running and entered all the local 5 and 10K’s. I continued doing that for a few years. While I was pregnant with my third, Andrew, I went to see a dear friend, Andy Potts, compete in the NYC Triathlon. We grew up swimming together and had similar backgrounds. I had traveled to Greece to see him in the 2004 Olympics as well. He won that day and put the bug in my ear to give a triathlon a try. Greg gave me a road bike for Valentine’s Day. Andrew was born on 2/18 J Within 2 weeks I was out running again and by April I was biking 15-20 miles. I got back in the water for the first time in 12 years. That June I competed in my first triathlon. I met a great training partner and did 3 more that summer. I ended up winning my age group in one and placing second in another. I ran a few half marathons after that. This past summer I got back in a pool to swim workouts with a group after 16 years. I felt like I was home-I found my way back to something I was missing all these years. I have a need to compete – more of a sickness really. I like to push myself physically to what I think is impossible and then do more. It’s a direct reflection from my upbringing with swimming. I’m happiest being physical, sweating, exerting energy. In turn it gives me energy and I think makes me a better person.
What made you decide to start swimming competitively as an adult?
My need to compete :-). I never made the Olympics. I made 1992 Olympic Trials at 15. I was second at Nationals, not first. My swimming career ended on sour note for me. My body needed a rest and mentally I did too. Competing as adult is a whole new world. You are much more in tune and aware of your body and what fuels it. You are smarter and stronger in a lot of ways. It’s daunting, but more rewarding I think. As a kid I took it all for granted. I never realized all I had accomplished until it was gone. With anything in life, I need to have a goal. Swimming workouts and pushing myself again…I needed a goal. And that was to make it to Nationals again this winter. To see if I could do it.
What was it like competing again after so many years?
Crazy is the only word I can use. I felt like I was 12 again, but then I was looking to make sure my kids weren’t too close to the pool. I was given my suits, caps and goggles for as long as I remember-now I had to buy them and everything was different. The blocks are definitely higher than I remember. I hadn’t been off a starting block in 16 years, turns are different, what you are allowed to do under water is different. Inside I was smiling ear to ear, but scared to death. I was a distance freestyler- 500, 1000, and mile and 400 IMer….. I love the fact that I never have to do those events again :-). I can choose now.
How did it feel when you made it to Nationals?
I first made Nationals in the 1000y freestyle at 12 years old in a time trial by a tenth of a second. For perspective-it was a time trial so I was in the pool by myself, 40 laps and a tenth of a second…. I was alone in snowy Syracuse trying one last time to make it before Cleveland when no one else besides myself and my coach thought I could. That was one of the proudest days of my life. I went on to make it in 8 or 9 other events over the next 3 years. The first was the most poignant though. Making it again as a 36 year old was different. I worked hard, but not nearly like I did to make it the first time. I think I felt justified. Yup, justification. Like, I knew I could do it.
What does it mean to you as a mom to have achieved this goal?
It means that my kids can see me compete and triumph and that can be done at any age. I hope it teaches others that you can do whatever you want to do if set your mind to it. I don’t believe in doing anything less than a 100% – my husband can attest to this. I hope it shows my kids perseverance and gives them drive and determination. I’m a very driven person and I don’t know if I could do it all without being that. Mostly, it has taught me to believe in myself again. I let that go somewhere along the way.
You’ve been sidelined recently with some health issues – what have you learned about yourself and your ability to rebound given all that’s happened in the last couple of months?
How quickly things can change. I lost my Mom 4 years ago so that isn’t all that foreign to me. I went from running and swimming 4000y to not being able to make my bed without being out of breath. It’s just another obstacle and I’ll overcome this one like all its predecessors. We all have them. I truly believe that all things happen for a reason and you are not given more than you can handle. For me, maybe I just needed to take a step back and see all the blessings around me. There isn’t anything more important to me than my family. We are all happier when we can do something for ourselves – for me that’s exercising. I’m happy to report that I am back at it and joined my friends in Lane 4 at Master’s practice last month :-).
Now for the fun stuff…
Celebrity crush? Tom Brady, Mike Piazza, Kip Moore (especially when singing “Something about a truck”)
Fave movie? “Top Gun”
Fave TV show? “Castle”
Book most recently read? Long Shot-Mike Piazza’s autobiography (that’s a little embarrassing)
Fave place to take the kids for dinner? Village Tavern or Leroy Fox
Fave place for a group date night with friends? Good Food on Montford or our staple The Wine Shop
Athlete that inspires you the most? Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice
Family’s favorite home-cooked meal? Grilled Chicken Parmesan with bow tie macaroni
Favorite thing about Charlotte? The friends we’ve made. Being able to be outside all the time. Southern hospitality.
Besides friends and family, thing (or things) you are most thankful for? Life
Thank you, Koren, for sharing your Saturday with us and go kick some Smarty butt in the water, my friend!
CEENTA Sunglasses Giveaway!
Smarties, we have a FABULOUS giveaway from our friends at Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates (CEENTA) just in time for summer. One lucky Smarty will get to pick her sunglasses of choice, up to $250 value!! Click here for details!