A champion among us

A champion among us
BY Virgin Active South Africa
Posted On 5 January, 2023

When Virgin Active’s Facilities Design Manager, Karen Walker met her husband, he was an avid cyclist. Being a passionate runner, she decided to make a deal with him to do the Cape Town Cycle Tour with him, and in turn, he’d run the Comrades Marathon with her. It was the beginning of their love story that also started Karen’s love affair with Duathlons. 

Karen Walker set herself the goal of competing in the Zofingen Powerman Long Distance Duathlon World Championships in Switzerland on the 19th of September 2021. If you think the name is a mouthful, you’ll be in awe of what Karen needed to achieve to get to her goal. Spoiler alert, she’s on her way to represent South Africa on the 19th of September! 

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let take a look at what Karen endured to make this dream a reality and how tough this race truly is. It’s a 10km run and a 150km bike ride with another 30km run thrown in for good measure.  

To qualify, Karen started focusing on building her endurance and fitness levels during Lockdown. She participated in the CTTA (District) Duathlon Championship, where she won her age group and was selected for SA Duathlon Champs. Unfortunately, it was cancelled due to Covid, but she was selected to represent South Africa at the World Championships. But that was the “easy” part.  

Karen then committed to 12-weeks of intense training to prepare for the gruelling task that lay ahead for her. During the week she would head to her trusty Virgin Active club for indoors training on an Air Runner and Wattbike to help her focus on technique, but also to work on mental stamina. Karen also turned to Pilates to help with her training and added swimming to her regime too.  

Once the weekends rolled around, Karen took to the outdoors with the SA team to help them prepare for the cold weather that might face them on race day when they’re in Switzerland. Karen attributes the team training sessions to keep her pushing harder while learning from their experience and advice. Due to the pandemic, training and race preparations have been challenging, with races being cancelled and training being done in smaller groups or in isolation. Rules and regulations need to be adhered to during races, which adds to the challenges that athletes like Karen already face when participating in a sport as intense as this.  

If training challenges weren’t enough, the logistics of travelling during a pandemic just added to the pressure for Karen. She needed to be fully vaccinated in time to get her visa approved, only then could she get her medical travel certificate issued.  Thankfully, all was approved and the Virgin Active family are preparing to bid Karen adieu. 


When we asked what inspires her to keep going, without skipping a beat Karen attributed her children, Tatum and Caleb as being her biggest inspiration. They keep her motivated to stay fit, healthy and have the energy to enjoy time with them. 

You can catch the live results on the Data Sport website, and the race will be televised from 07h55 to 16h00 on Triathlon Live on the 19th of September 2021. 

We at Virgin Active wish Karen all the best on her adventure! We can’t wait to hear all about her journey when she’s back in the office!