TAMPA — Some people take up running to quit smoking. Yova Borovska quit smoking to take up running.
Now the 28-year-old is a triathlete, often placing first in her category at the swim-bike-run events. She has done one Half Ironman — a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run — and is training for another next March. The immigration lawyer, who works at Fowler White Boggs in downtown Tampa, has participated in about 30 triathlons, garnering about 15 first-place awards, trophies that reflect her sacrifice of Marlboros.
Borovska took her first sprint on the path of health nearly a decade ago when she was a student at Eckerd College. She moved into a dorm of mostly athletes. Concerned about her health, Borovska's new friends harassed her about her habit. She decided she wanted their lifestyle.
"I thought it just looked really cool that they were athletes and they were students at the same time, and they had so much fun together," Borovska said. "And I could also see the running club running around campus, and just something about that, I wanted to be part of that. And I couldn't do it as a smoker.''
Borovska started smoking as a teenager in Bulgaria, where it doesn't carry the stigma that it does in the United States. By the time she entered college, she had a pack-a-day habit.
A friend who played basketball suggested Borovska try some of the workouts in her conditioning book.
"I tried one of those and I was just going to go for a run, and that's when I failed,'' she said, recalling how she erupted into a fit of coughs a half-mile into the run. "That night, I quit smoking. I just didn't smoke again.''
She kept running, building distance and speed. She has run three marathons. She injured her foot on a run, so she stopped running for a while and concentrated on swimming and cycling to train for triathlons. That's after teaching herself how to swim. Her favorite race is the "sprint triathlon,'' swimming one-fourth to one-half mile, bicycling 10 to 15 miles, and finishing up with a 5K run.
Her new lifestyle led her to her husband, Ben Carlson, who is also a triathlete. Their first meeting wasn't promising. She walked in a sports shop looking for her first triathlon suit. Carlson was a new sales attendant. She didn't know what size to get, and he wasn't good at guessing. She was tall, so he suggested she try a large.
"That was not a good, smart thing to say,'' she noted with a rueful smile.
Carlson redeemed himself the next day, when he saw Borovska at a race and talked to her. He eventually asked her out. They married in January.
As it turns out, the pair had more than athletics in common. Carlson, 29, discovered that his cigarette habit had taken its toll about six years ago when he joined friends from work in a basketball game. "I had no oxygen. It was awful.''
He quit cigarettes and decided to push himself as far as he could go athletically. He and Borovska enter a lot of the same competitions, and both often place among the top triathletes in their categories. They may not always be entering triathlons, he said, but they plan to keep pushing themselves.
"We definitely want to stick with fitness in some capacity our entire lives,'' said Carlson, who is working on his certification to become a personal trainer.
Borovska plans to enter her second Half Ironman race in March. She said she isn't ready to try the full Ironman, a grueling 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. She heard that people have more success at that in their 30s and 40s, if only because they have developed more patience for the time and strain of that kind of endurance test.
She hopes to do better in the upcoming Half Ironman than she did in May. The swimming was fine, and she got through the bike ride okay, but the long run at the end drained her.
"You're hurting; you're hot. There's people around you. And you just want to stop," Borovska said. "I mean, I did walk a lot, unfortunately, but I finished.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3435.