Kristen Hetzel is living the life.
It's a full one, but the Wheeling Central High School graduate wouldn't have it any other way.
''I just think life is really exciting and there's so many opportunities and things you can do,'' she said from her Santa Monica, Calif. home. ''I'm one of those people that really likes to live and try new things and explore what new opportunities are available.''
It's that attitude that led Hetzel into the challenging world of duathlon two years ago.
Previously a standout cyclist, the former Wheeling Jesuit track and cross country standout discovered duathlon through a chance encounter while getting her bicycle fixed while she living in Tucson, Ariz. One thing led to another and soon Hetzel found herself immersed in the competitive world of duathlon.
''I always knew I wanted to get into multi-sport events - duathlons and triathlons - but at the time I was racing the bike and I really didn't know how it work.''
Always an optimist, Hetzel made it work. The flyer she saw in the bike shop that was the impetus for her duathlon career advertised the National Duathlon Championships, which were taking place a month from when she discovered the flyer. So, she started training immediately.
''I thought it was cool,'' Hetzel recalled.
She finished third and earned a berth at the world championships in France. That only fueled her love for the sport.
From then on I was hooked on the sports on duathlon,'' Hetzel said. ''I just loved it. That's when I sort of decided I'd make that my primary thing of training for with my ultimate goal of improving my position on the world stage and ultimately becoming a world champion, which is every athlete's dream.''
The duathlon features a 10K run, a 40 K bicycle ride and another 5K run.
''I do triathlons, as well, but my primary focus is to get in the U.S. team and compete and represent the U.S. and try and do as well as I possible can there.''
In 2012, Hetzel finished 18th worlds. She was ninth last year. As for this year?: She'll find out next Sunday, June 1, when she heads to Pontevedra, Spain, for this year's competition.
It's somewhat unique to have your biggest reason in the middle of the season. But that's how it's working out for Hetzel. She normally starts competing in early March and concludes near the end of August.
''My coach and I sit down and pick the races I'll do throughout the season,'' she explained. For me, the national championships and the world championships are my two biggest races throughout the year, obviously, with the worlds being the biggest. So, we pick races with everything geared toward getting ready for that.''
This year's national event is set for July 19 in St. Paul, Minn.
To prepare for nationals, Hetzel competes in a variety of 10Ks and 5Ks and other things depending where it falls within her training schedule. Plus, living in the Los Angles area provides her a great place to train, as well.
''I've lived in a lot of places and training here is the best I've had anywhere,'' she said. ''I'm competing for the world championship in the duathlon, which is riding a bike and running, but I also do triathlons. So you have, obviously, the ocean, so you can train there and you have beach paths and the biking is really good. So, it's a good place to train.''
And when Hetzel' isn't training, she works as a physical therapist. She has a doctorate in the field from Northern Arizona University, where she attended after graduating from WJU.
Hetzel's not a stranger to the Ohio Valley, though. In fact, she's planning on returning in late August to perform in her first half ironman distance triathlon, slated for Morgantown. That will include a 12-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run.
These trips she's making aren't trip. And while sponsors help, Hetzel funds most of the trips.
''We have to pay for our own season,'' she said. ''It gets a little challenging, honestly.''
To help supplement her income, Hetzel has picked up some acting and modeling jobs. She's having great success and has even picked up an agent, which, in Hollywood, isn't easy to do. She said she's done work with Reebok, BMW among others.
In addition, she's helped design a line of signature T-shirts men's and women's - and has some posters and other items available.
''They turned out really neat,'' she said of the shirts. ''There's actually some intention behind the design that appears on them. It wasn't just like, let's pick this logo. That was fun.''
''I just think life is really exciting and there's so many opportunities and things you can do,'' she said. ''I'm one of those people that really loves to live and try new things and explore what new opportunities are available.''