Once upon a time, parents weren\u2019t parents. They were 20-something-year-olds with heads full of dreams, time and energy in spades. They did more than change diapers and watch Sponge Bob. For these five Blue Ridge families in particular, life before kids was measured in athletic benchmarks\u2014podiums won, miles traveled, adventures undertaken.\r\nYet even now, these parents aren\u2019t just parents. They\u2019re entrepreneurs and business professionals and mentors, yes, but they\u2019re still athletes. They\u2019re still training and racing and exploring, which begs the question\u2014can you be an accomplished athlete and a first-rate parent too?\r\n\r\nMommy Guilt\r\nSophie Carpenter Speidel of Charlottesville, Va., wasn\u2019t always a runner. In college, running was a means to an end, a way to stay in shape for her lacrosse career, which eventually landed her on the US Women\u2019s National Lacrosse Team from 1982 until 1984. So in 2005, when Speidel was toeing the line at the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile, her first 100-miler, just three years after her first ultra ever, no one was more surprised than she.\r\n\u201cI had run the 10K at the Blue Ridge Burn for a few years and I loved it,\u201d she says of her early trail running experiences. \u201cI was set free, it seemed like.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nBut an ultra, let alone a 100-miler, is a far cry from a 10K, as Speidel quickly found out. Especially when it comes to training while trying to raise three kids under the age of 10. Knowing little about proper training tactics for a 100-miler, Speidel was in the woods all day, every day, every weekend. When she wasn\u2019t running, she was reading about running. Running consumed her, exhausted her, but it also exhilarated her.\u201cUltra running can be very seductive, like any endurance sport, in terms of time and community,\u201d she says. \u201cIt\u2019s a great escape, especially in this day and age, to just be in the mountains all day. You can lose track of the reality of your life a little bit. Some people realize that and right the ship,\u201d but often, as was the case with Speidel, there needs to be a catalyst first, a looming threat of capsizing, to change the trajectory.\r\nFor Speidel, that moment came at the Bull Run 50 Mile in Clifton, Va. It was a beautiful, crisp morning. Speidel was making quick work of the course, moving with ease through rolling woods and across spring fed creeks. Speidel was in the zone, lost in her breath and the sounds of birds in the trees and leaves crunching underfoot. But almost halfway through the race, the course spit her out from the forest and back into the bustle of Clifton. And that\u2019s when she saw it\u2014a soccer field.\r\n\u201cIt was a typical Saturday morning in northern Virginia,\u201d she says. \u201cThe course literally runs through this soccer field and as I\u2019m running through, I\u2019m looking around and seeing all of these families with kids. That race gave me huge mommy guilt. It\u2019s unlike when you go out in the mountains and you\u2019re away from it all.\u201d\r\nThough her husband Rusty had mostly supported Speidel\u2019s newfound obsession with running, it was starting to wear on their marriage. Even when Speidel was home, she was distracted, preoccupied with race reports and training methods. But after the Bull Run 50 Mile, Speidel came to grips with reality and made a change.\r\n\u201cYour kids are only young once. If it doesn\u2019t work, it doesn\u2019t work and there will be plenty of time to do your thing later,\u201d she says. \u201cYou gotta figure out what works for your family. Balance is a matter of trial and error.\u201d\r\nEventually, the couple fell into a rhythm of taking turns. Speidel ran on Saturdays and Rusty biked on Sundays. She continued running ultras, averaging about seven per year, all the while supporting Rusty and his goals, like finishing the Shenandoah Mountain 100. And when the kids were old enough to compete in organized sports of their own, Speidel prioritized that first, even if it meant missing out on her favorite races.\r\n\u201cThroughout the parenting continuum, I\u2019ve ebbed and flowed. I went from being gung-ho in the beginning, got a reality check, and now I have perspective. I missed out on years of races, but I didn\u2019t mind. If you do mind, then something\u2019s wrong.\u201d\r\n\r\nWork Hard to Play Hard\r\nFor triathlete Jay Curwen of Asheville, N.C., the reality check he needed came not from his wife Monica but from their first-born son. Curwen, who\u2019s been a two-time USA World Triathlon Championship Team Member and National Champion adventure racer, knew that his athletic expectations would need some adjusting when kids came into the picture. But shifting his career, which at the time was working as a sales representative for Patagonia, was one change he didn\u2019t expect to make.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cMy oldest was just a couple years old at that point, and in his memory, I was gone as much as six months at a time,\u201d Curwen remembers. \u201cThat wasn\u2019t the case. I was sometimes gone two weeks at a time, but that broke my heart because in his three-year-old mind, I was gone half a year.\u201d\r\nCurwen ditched the traveling gig and found a job with the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which meant he could be present at home with his three sons while still being an active part of the Southeast\u2019s outdoor industry. As for fitness, Curwen exercises whenever he can, even if it means answering work emails while cranking out miles on a stationary bike.\r\n\u201cUp until Monica and I got married, athletics for me was all-consuming. Basically every part of my life I geared towards being an athlete and getting faster,\u201d he says. \u201cWhen I was 25, I didn\u2019t leave anything to chance. If the guy beat me, it was because he was legitimately better than me. Now, if I win, I win, if I don\u2019t, I don\u2019t and it\u2019s okay. I don\u2019t pressure myself on the results anymore.\u201d\r\nDon\u2019t let Curwen fool you\u2014his competitive fire hasn\u2019t totally gone to ash. Just last year, Curwen won his age division at both the USA Triathlon Off-Road National Champions and the USA Triathlon Long Course Duathlon National Champions. The trick to staying moderately competitive while still being a present, engaged father, he says, is a combination of maintaining a base level of fitness, getting up early, and including the kids.\r\n\u201cMy boys have definitely seen their dad get his clock cleaned more times than not,\u201d says Jay Curwen. \u201cThey\u2019ve also seen me win a lot of things and, as a five-year-old, if you see nothing but your dad win, that becomes your expectation. I don\u2019t want that to be any kind of example. I want them to be able to enjoy competing and not competing and not measure themselves against any other yardstick but themselves.\u201d\r\n\r\nTraining Smarter\r\n\u201cInstead of training for triathlons, I stuck to running because it was something I could do while pushing them in the stroller,\u201d says 37-year-old Sue Finney of Knoxville, Tenn.\r\nFinney is a wife and mother of three. Last September, she and her husband David opened their own gym, KyBRa Athletics. As if balancing all of that wasn\u2019t enough, Sue also managed to recover from a broken foot and swipe the title as the 2016 XTERRA Southeast Regional Champion. Like Curwen, Sue knows she has to be realistic about how much time she can spend training for the upcoming XTERRA World Championships this year, but that\u2019s all the more reason to make the most of what little time she does have.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou really don\u2019t have time for lazy downtime,\u201d she says of being a gym owner, mom, and athlete-in-training. \u201cI train so much better now than I did in my 20s. Then, I would say, I just want to ride for fun today and I\u2019ll work hard tomorrow, but now, I don\u2019t know if I\u2019ll have a tomorrow. What if a kid gets sick or there\u2019s a snow day? I might train a little less, but I\u2019m actually doing better. If I had my 20-year-old body with my 37-year-old mindset, I\u2019d be a lot better of an athlete.\u201d\r\n\u201cHaving kids really makes you live up to your potential,\u201d adds her husband, David. \u201cThey also teach you to be more flexible and just a little more dynamic in how you live your life.\u201d\r\nFor David, that meant giving up the high-consequence stakes of steep creek, expedition-style kayaking that had defined his years as a member of the Riot Team. In his 20s, David\u2019s life looked a lot like a spread in Rapid Magazine\u2014pristine waterfalls, dense jungle canopy, shuttle rides on the back of mud-encrusted motorcycles. Every year, David would spend multiple months on whitewater trips in exotic destinations ranging from Thailand to Patagonia. David still paddles on the Southeast classics, but he\u2019s more interested now in teaching his kids to paddle and introducing them to the element that has so influenced his life.\r\n\u201cI don\u2019t do a lot of things I would have done 20 years ago because if I got hurt or drowned, it would affect many more people than it would have when I was 20 years old and single,\u201d he says. \u201cYou assess risk differently. It becomes less valuable to you to paddle the hardest rapids or go over the tallest waterfalls. Your kids don\u2019t care. They just like to think you\u2019re kayaking.\u201d\r\nAnd more importantly, he says, they like to be a part of it. Holidays at the Finney household don\u2019t involve a lot of gifts. Birthdays in particular, says Sue, are structured around experiences over material items. Their oldest, Kyra, 7, chose paddling the Nantahala for her birthday, and their middle child, Rachel, 4, wanted to go camping. Kyra recently got her very own mountain bike, and is anxiously waiting for the junior race season to begin. It\u2019s moments like these, agree Sue and David, that make all of the hard work and dawn patrols worth it.\r\n\u201cWe get up early at 5 a.m., we don\u2019t watch a lot of TV, or if we do we fall asleep to it, date nights aren\u2019t usually movie-and-a-dinner but hire-a-babysitter-so-we-can-mountain-bike-together,\u201d says Sue, \u201cbut if you can just make the kids part of it all, they\u2019re happier. I hope I\u2019m still racing when my kids are in high school, but I also hope that they\u2019re out there kicking my butt.\u201d\r\n\r\nNo Excuses\r\nThat philosophy of inclusion is sweeping the parenting world, particularly in younger generations of moms and dads. Just ask Blacksburg, Va., parents Luke Hopkins and Anne Pagano. You need only take a look at their Instagram feeds (@adventures_of_annie and @localpaddler) to see that athletically driven parents can have their cake and eat it, too.\r\n\u201cYou can still do everything you did before having kids, but there\u2019s no question that things change to some degree or another,\u201d says Pagano, \u201cbut they make baby backpacks for hiking, strollers for running, you can have a baby sit between your legs in a kayak and paddle on flatwater. It\u2019s not easy, but there\u2019s always a way.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHopkins, who grew up competitively kayaking and earned the podium twice at the US Freestyle World Championships (silver in 2001, bronze in 2003), and Pagano are leading the charge in the Southeast\u2019s standup paddleboard scene. They\u2019re regular contenders in regional SUP races like the Chattajack 31, the New River Gorge SUP Race, and the Tuck Fest SUP Cross. Hopkins works as sales manager for Onewheel, while Pagano is brand ambassador for Body Glove, Imagine Surf, Accent Paddles, and IceMule Coolers. The couple also stays busy hosting the destination SUP TV series Chasing Waves.\r\n\u201cHaving kids, for me, hasn\u2019t really stopped my professional athlete career,\u201d says Hopkins. \u201cIt\u2019s not the, \u2018I can\u2019t,\u2019 or, \u2018I never,\u2019 or, \u2018Everything\u2019s just changed,\u2019 it\u2019s the, \u2018How can?\u2019 attitude that\u2019s made it possible for us to live the outdoor recreational lifestyle, still travel, and still make a living to support our family.\u201d\r\n\r\nTheir seemingly progressive parenting style is a mix between the skin-your-knee mentality on which many of us were raised and the summer camp pillars of trying hard and having fun. While the fall and winter months are pretty standard as far as most families go, summer months for their two girls, ages eight and five, are anything but. For the past three years, the family has lived on the road out of an RV for the summer, traveling, exploring, and for Hopkins, working at a dozen outdoor industry events.\r\nAt the very least, their girls have a childhood full of experiences most adults can only dream of\u2014paddling the Allagash River in Maine, exploring and paddling on the Skookumchuk in British Columbia, paddling the Salmon River and soaking in Idaho\u2019s hot springs, hiking in Arches National Park, paddling Oregon\u2019s Columbia River Gorge\u2026you get the picture.\r\n\u201cEverything is definitely slower which wasn\u2019t something I was used to,\u201d says Pagano. \u201cWhen I hike, I typically hike fast or run, but they have taught me to look around and collect acorns, find mushrooms, find the little frogs I wouldn\u2019t see if I was running through the woods on my own. I have definitely learned to appreciate slowing down, savoring, and taking our time.\u201d\r\n\r\nCultivating Grit\r\nThe relationship with time is ultimately what made Roanoke-based parents Bekah and Derrick Quirin decide to take their one-year-old baby Ellie on a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. The Quirins, who are both 25, have always wanted to thru hike the trail. After graduating from college with degrees in outdoor leadership, they thought for sure they would hike the trail, but they got jobs, traveled out west, and then Bekah became pregnant.\r\n\u201cI left my job to stay home with Ellie and joined this hiking group called Hike It Baby,\u201d says Bekah. \u201cOne day, I realized that it might be a possibility [to thru hike with her] because Ellie was a lot happier being outside than inside. She loves the outdoors.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nBRO-TV: Ellie on the AT from Blue Ridge Outdoors on Vimeo.\r\nAfter months of planning and deliberation, the Quirins set off on their flip-flop journey from Roanoke last month, with plans to hike south first to Springer Mountain before heading north to hike from Katahdin back to Roanoke. Their plan seems ambitious, maybe a little too ambitious to some\u2014Ellie, who Bekah will be solely responsible for carrying while Derrick lugs the rest of their gear, will be going through her teething phase on the trail. But for both Bekah and Derrick, the benefits of spending all day, every day with Ellie during those eight allotted months far outweigh the challenges of hiking 12 miles a day with heavy packs.\r\n\u201cEverybody says, \u2018time flies,\u2019 and then when you have kids, time flies even faster. We didn\u2019t realize how true that was. When we thought about how we can make time slow down, that\u2019s how we came to thru hiking,\u201d says Bekah. \u201cI\u2019m sure I\u2019ll definitely question at some point what in the world were we thinking taking this trip, but mentally, I want to have the perspective that even if we were still in our comfortable house with everything that is normal to most people, there are still going to be rough days. Doing a thru hike is hard, but raising a child in general is really hard, too.\u201d\r\n\r\nBefore you go judging the Quirins or Pagano-Hopkins household for raising van-lifer-dirtbags-in-the-making, recent studies show that the introduction of grit into a child\u2019s life is more important to overall success than natural intellect or talent. According to Angela Lee Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist who has studied grit for decades, instilling children with optimism at the first signs of discomfort, or failure, can make them more successful down the road.\r\n\u201cGrit is living life like it\u2019s a marathon, not a sprint,\u201d says Duckworth in her TED Talk on grit. \u201cIt\u2019s about having stamina, sticking with your future\u2014day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years\u2014and working really hard to make that future a reality.\u201d\r\nSounds like a thru hike, doesn\u2019t it? While baby Ellie will likely only remember her white blaze trek in pictures, that exposure to her parents working hard, and possibly failing, will have a lasting effect on her grittiness.\r\nREAD\u00a0PAGE 4\r\n\r\nWords of Wisdom\r\nWant to take the kids on your next outdoor adventure? Take a gander at these tried and true tips from our four families before you hit the trail.\r\nStart \u2018em young!\r\n\u201cWhen we moved to Charlottesville, to be honest with you, I didn\u2019t even know about the Appalachian Trail. Later we tried taking them to Old Rag, but unless you really start them young, it\u2019s hard.\u201d\r\n\u2014Sophie Carpenter + Rusty Speidel\r\nKeep it fun.\r\n\u201cAs adults, we really don\u2019t have too much trouble putting our head down and grinding out a workout, but when you\u2019re 10 years old, that\u2019s not what it\u2019s about. It\u2019s about having fun, and adults sometimes skip the fun part.\u201d\r\n\u2014Jay + Monica Curwen\r\nBring more food always.\r\n\u201cPack more food than you think. Exploring the outdoors takes a lot out of not only the kiddos, but the parents. 'Hangry' family members can ruin a day in the woods.\u201d\r\n\u2014David + Sue Finney\r\nKeep it short and sweet.\r\n\u201cKeep the length of your trip age appropriate. Younger kids tend to have shorter attention spans.\u201d\r\n\u2014Anne Pagano + Luke Hopkins\r\nGive yourself a break.\r\n\u201cThere are educators in the field that can do the job of teaching your kid things, whether it\u2019s a ski instructor or paddling instructor, and I would encourage parents to lean on that resource rather than be the instructor yourself. I\u2019ve seen my kids take the same advice and instruction I gave them from a professional because that instructor was not a parent. It\u2019s money well spent.\u201d\r\n\u2014Jay + Monica Curwen\r\nBe prepared, but embrace spontaneity.\r\n\u201cWhen traveling, pack lunches and scout out state parks or national forest ahead of time and take back roads as often as possible. Some of our most memorable experiences are the places we stopped for a picnic lunch or a break from driving.\u201d\r\n\u2014David + Sue Finney\r\n\r\n\r\nTop 10 Destinations for Family Friendly Fun\r\nOur four families shared their favorite places to go outside and play.\r\n\r\nPlay + Dine\r\nSpy Rock + Devils Backbone Brewing Company\r\nRoseland, Virginia\r\nAt 3.1 miles roundtrip, this short hike in central Virginia won\u2019t take all day, but when you\u2019re dragging kids up a mountain, shorter is sometimes better. The trail climbs steadily to the Spy Rock summit, but that means it\u2019s all downhill from there. Spend an hour or two basking in the 360-degree views of the Religious Range before heading back for a lunch or early dinner at Devils Backbone Brewing Company. When the weather\u2019s nice, the outside seating and game area gives kids plenty of room to roam while the adults kick back by the fire pit with a locally crafted brew.\r\nTurk Mountain + Blue Mountain Brewery\r\nAfton, Virginia\r\nWhat better way to greet the day than a 2.2-mile morning hike to the top of a mountain? You\u2019ll climb 690 feet to reach the peak, but once you\u2019re there, you\u2019ll be greeted with talus slopes to scramble on and classic Virginia Blue Ridge views to soak in. Head back down for brunch at Blue Mountain Brewery, which usually has live music on Sundays during the warmer months.\r\nFrench Broad + Salvage Station\r\nAsheville, North Carolina\r\nWant a carefree, scenic river float that requires minimal logistics? Head out on the class I-II section of the French Broad River. In the summertime especially, this portion of the French Broad can become crowded with weekend tubers. Start your float early and take out at the Salvage Station. This riverfront bar, concert, and event space is more outdoors than in, and regularly has free music, games, and rotating food trucks.\r\n\r\nHit the Water\r\nNantahala Outdoor Center\r\nBryson City, North Carolina\r\nNothing says summer like whitewater rafting. Take a guided trip down the class II+ Nantahala River with one of the center\u2019s seasoned guides. Kids can also enroll in one of the center\u2019s various paddling schools or clinic offerings to take full advantage of the professional expertise here.\r\nFontana Lake\r\nAlmond, North Carolina\r\nRent a boat, or bring some floating crafts of your own, and head out onto this spectacular 10,000-acre lake. Engulfed by the majesty that is the Great Smoky Mountains, Fontana\u2019s 240 miles of shoreline afford the adventurous at heart endless opportunities to explore. Quiet coves and defined cliff bands make great stopping points to cool off with a swim or cliff jump.\r\nDuPont State Recreational Forest\r\nBrevard, North Carolina\r\nHike or bike on DuPont\u2019s 90-mile trail system. Situated at the heart of western North Carolina, this gem is easily accessible and can be as novice-friendly or as advanced as your family\u2019s skillset allows. You would be remiss to plan an adventure here and not pay a visit to the waterfalls showcased in The Hunger Games. Given the stunning beauty of this North Carolina gem, even adults will find it hard not to channel their inner Katniss Everdeen.\r\nSummersville Lake\r\nSummersville, West Virginia\r\nThe sandstone cliffs that border Summersville Lake are out-of-this-world cool, whether you\u2019re a pontoon floater, a SUPper, or a climber. Take your craft of choice to any number of boater access ramps and spend the day on this pristine body of water.\r\nNew River\r\nBlacksburg, Virginia\r\nLargely overshadowed by the rompin\u2019 class IV-V New River Gorge downstream, the upper stretches of the New River are every bit as scenic and fun. Though the rapids are sizably smaller, they serve as the perfect whitewater introduction for kids of all ages. Put in at McCoy Falls just 15 minutes outside of Blacksburg. Skilled paddlers can get in a quick surf here before floating tranquilly down the rest of the class I-II run.\r\n\r\nOn Belay\r\nKnoxville\u2019s Urban Wilderness\r\nKnoxville, Tennessee\r\nOnly a few miles from downtown Knoxville, this recreation oasis encompasses 1,000 acres across 10 different parks and four civil war sites. There are over 50 miles of multiuse trails here, making the Urban Wilderness a popular destination among cyclists and runners, but new to the scene is the Ijams Crag, Knoxville\u2019s only outdoor climbing area. The climbing crag features a diverse range in beginner to advanced sport routes and affords novice climbers an intimidation-free environment to learn the ropes.\r\nNew River Gorge\r\nFayetteville, West Virginia\r\nNo matter if you climb sport, trad, or boulders, the bullet-hard sandstone at the New provides. Hike in for miles on stunning trails to avoid the crowds, or park-and-climb within minutes of leaving your car. Though the New is notorious for sandbagging, there are a handful of walls that offer more moderate routes for families and novice climbers, such as Sandstonia and Butcher\u2019s Branch. Take care in the summer, as these areas in particular can become especially crowded on the weekends.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nGet Schooled\r\nWith these 8 outdoor education centers so you, and your family, can feel safe about recreating.\r\n\r\nNantahala Outdoor Center\r\nBryson City, North Carolina\r\nVoted \u201cBest Raft Guide Company\u201d in our 2017 Best of the Blue Ridge contest, the NOC is also one of the leading instructional centers for kayaking, swiftwater rescue, wilderness medicine, and, should you want to join the NOC raft guide ranks, raft guiding.\r\n\r\nLandmark Learning\r\nSylva, North Carolina\r\nFor all things related to risk management, wilderness medicine, and backcountry response, Landmark Learning is the outdoor industry\u2019s go-to educational organization. College students can even receive an entire semester\u2019s worth of credits while gaining important industry certifications like Wilderness First Responder and Wilderness EMT.\r\n\r\nOutward Bound\r\nNorth Carolina, Georgia\r\nNo matter your age or experience level, Outward Bound has a course that will suit your needs. Trips can range from four days to almost three months and span all genres of outdoor adventure in every corner of the world, from sailing off the coast of Maine to backpacking in Patagonia.\r\n\r\nFox Mountain Guides\r\nPisgah Forest, North Carolina\r\nLearn the ropes with Fox Mountain Guides, voted \u201cBest Climbing Company\u201d in our 2017 Best of the Blue Ridge contest and the only American Mountain Guides Association accredited guide service in the region. Beginners will gain a comprehensive understanding of rock climbing in an intimidation-free setting suited to their experience level, while even expert climbers will learn a thing or two from Fox Mountain\u2019s seasoned guides.\r\n\r\nAdventure Sports Center International\r\nMcHenry, Maryland\r\nTouted as the world\u2019s only mountaintop whitewater course, this manmade whitewater center is unique not only in its setting but its outstanding raft guides and kayak instructors. Learn the basics of whitewater paddling in a relatively controlled environment and without the logistical stress of paddling remote rivers.\r\n\r\nNew River Mountain Guides\r\nFayetteville, West Virginia\r\nWant your teen to get hooked on something other than Facebook and video games? Send them to a weeklong rock climbing course this summer with New River Mountain Guides. Between the world-class climbing, nightly campfires, and lasting friendships, it\u2019s sure to be a summer your child will never forget.\r\n\r\nWilderness Voyageurs\r\nOhiopyle, Pennsylvania\r\nMake the most of your next weekend getaway with a two-day immersion in kayaking. For decades, the whitewater paddling hub of Ohiopyle has churned out some of the world\u2019s best paddlers, so you know the boating here has to be good. All equipment and gear is provided as well as transportation and lunches on the water.\r\n\r\nAmerican Canoe Association\r\nVarious Locations\r\nThroughout the year, the American Canoe Association partners with outfitters and paddling clubs across the country to offer a diverse array of courses such as swiftwater rescue, coastal kayaking, essentials of river kayaking, and SUP surf skills. Whether you\u2019re a beach bum or a river rat, the ACA is your best bet for learning water safety and skills.