A Change of Pace
WRITTEN BY P. ANNE FULGHAM | PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF LEE KARP
Approaching a milestone birthday motivated Lee Karp to make a life-changing decision. Not only did she complete an Ironman competition, she also left a 23-year career in fashion to inspire others to follow their own dreams.
She and husband Steve, an Ironman competitor and Atlanta native, moved from California in 2005. Today, they own Georgia’s first Endurance House franchise, a specialized retail sports store in Alpharetta that caters to runners, walkers, bikers, swimmers and anyone interested in bettering their endurance abilities. Their aim is to inspire others on similar paths, demonstrating the journey to “find your possible” starts with a single step. Reflecting on her own steps to date, Karp quipped, “I’ve traded in my high heels of the fashion world for running pants and running shoes, and haven’t looked back.”
Finding Their Stride
While she now serves as the face of the business, Karp’s passion did not develop overnight.
“Steve has always been athletic, but I never had been,” said the slightly-built brunette. “In fact, I hated physical education classes in school. And even though I was a cheerleader in high school, I had never been happy with my weight.”
Karp, a self-described yo-yo dieter and exerciser, tried everything to stay in shape until she and Steve found a solution that stuck. “In 2009, we found CrossFit, which gave me the encouragement and confidence to do things I never thought possible,” Karp said. “It made all the difference.”
At the time, Karp — still working in fashion retailing for GUESS — and Steve, a project director for a national commercial construction firm, wedged training workouts between their jobs, but by the following year, they had set a goal of running a half-marathon (13.1 miles). The determined couple hired a coach and read the latest books about being physi- cally fit, starting with shorter distances of 5K and 10K events. Karp also consulted a nutritionist to better prepare her for the training. The completion of their first half- marathon in 2010 proved to Karp that she could become a solid athlete.
“Our coach did the Ironman in 2011 and, by that time, we were committed to endurance sports,” Karp said. “Steve and I began training for triathlons – swimming, biking and running. As I approached my 40th birthday, we set a goal of doing the Ironman in Panama City Beach, Fla.”
The duo did half-marathons, sprints, Olympic and half Ironmans around the country in preparation for their goal race, building both skill and endurance. Finally, in November of 2013, they traveled to Panama City Beach to join more than 2,800 people in crossing another milestone off their list.
“It was an amazing experience to be out there with people from all over the world – all kinds of people, all ages – professional athletes and just everyday people who enjoy challenging themselves as athletes,” Karp recalled.
The Karps raced at their own paces, with Lee walking at times during the running segment due to a bout with plantar fasciitis.
Keeping in Step
It’s this kind of passion that not only keeps athletes like the Karps going the distance, but also provided the idea for their most recent venture.
“We [noticed] very little infrastructure to support people who wanted to start an endurance sport, especially triathlons,” Karp said. Flipping through Triathlete Magazine one day, they saw an ad for Endurance House.
“It was just what we were looking for: a place where people can ask questions, get advice and interact with other people who have the same goals,” she said.
In early 2013, the Karps reached out to Endurance House International founders and accomplished triathletes Jamie and Tara Osborn of Madison, Wis. “Jamie and Tara are like [us]; their values align with ours and we’re all inter- ested and committed to providing the sup- port, information, resources, education and encouragement to help people reach their athletic goals,” Karp said, adding, “Everything just fit.”
Supporting local athletes as well as each other, the Karps are equal partners in Endurance House, which is more than a retail sporting goods and specialty shoe store. Customers are greeted with personal attention from staff members trying to understand each customer’s fitness pro- gram and ultimate health goals. The Personalized Movement Profile – free to customers – helps analyze walking movements to identify the most appropriate shoe for each person’s unique gait. The store also employs a bicycle fitter for cyclists and tri- athletes.
While continuing to train and com- pete in endurance events is a top priority for the Karps, in their spare time, they also stay active in their church and volunteer throughout the community including the Georgia English Bulldog Rescue group. They own three rescued Bulldogs and an adopted cat.
“We are so incredibly blessed that we both have the same passion about our fit- ness,” Karp said. “And the important thing [is that] we are not professional athletes opening a retail store; we’re business people who are putting everything we’ve learned so far into building our own dream, while at the same time helping people realize theirs.”
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