- Associated Press - Monday, August 18, 2014

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - Kyle King smoked his first Marlboro at age 12.

He kept it up through middle school and during his years at Seneca High School. By the time he was 23, the Pendleton man had a pack-a-day habit.

But one day, he’d had enough. In short order, he quit smoking, began training regularly and he now competes in five triathlons a year.

What’s more, he’s become a health guru for his co-workers, too.

“I smoked until I was nearly 24,” says the IT support specialist for Baptist Easley Hospital. “And then just the thought of smoking for half my life was more than I wanted to do. I quit cold turkey.”

Ironically, King, 31, always hated the smell of cigarette smoke. The cost always strained his budget, too. But he got in with a smoking crowd, he said, and did as they did.

“You think at 12, 13, 14, you’re being cool. It’s not until later that you realize you’re not,” he says. “It’s a very hard addiction to stop.”

But in 2005, he began working at the hospital, where smoking wasn’t permitted on campus, affording him an opportunity.

“It was starting to get tougher to smoke,” he recalls. “And I remember smoking when it was 30 degrees, 20 degrees outside in an ice storm. And you realize this isn’t too bright.”

King had also lost two grandparents to smoking. And in the back of his mind was the nagging desire to be an athlete.

So he kicked the habit in 2006. Then one day, he and a friend were watching a football game and flipping through a magazine when they saw an ad for a triathlon.

“I had always been … jogging around the neighborhood a few times, even when I was smoking,” he says. “So we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ “

That fall, the Tri-County Tech graduate began training in earnest - swimming at the Y and running and bicycling over the streets of Pendleton. He competed in his first short-distance triathlon__ a 750-meter swim, an 11-mile bike ride and a 5K run - in May of 2009.

“I did pretty well the first time out,” he says. “I did it in about an hour and a half.”

First place was just under an hour, he says.

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