Remembering Nina Kraft
"My only hope is that you are remembered for all the beautiful things you were in this world"Photo by: Hammy Handwerker
Since the tragic news of her death a few days ago, friends of Nina Kraft have spoken out about the woman they knew as “encouraging and always smiling,” and a “kind and super nice person.”
“She was a loyal and generous friend,” Doug Guthrie wrote on Kraft’s Facebook page. “She was a free spirit and a fierce competitor. She showed me and anyone else who trained with her what it took to be great. On tough days she would remind me that ‘We are not training for a walk in the flower garden.’ She helped to achieve a goal I had been chasing for over 8 years and then helped me to do it again. I am thankful for every minute. I am forever changed for the better because of her.”
“The world has lost a dear friend, an amazingly talented athlete, a fighter, a champion, a free spirit with a golden heart,” Renate Gaisser wrote on Facebook.
That was the person and incredible athlete I knew, too. I was there for all of Kraft’s races in Kona. The two thirds, the runner-up finish. My wife and I shared some of the champagne she won at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt in 2004. I was there for her comeback race at Ironman Malaysia in 2007, where she dropped out. Later that year I was on hand when she won Ironman Florida. I was there for her wins at Ironman Louisville in 2009 and 2011, too.
It wasn’t hard for me to believe that her positive test in Kona in 2004 was a one-and-done offence. You could see that there was something wrong with that win as soon as she came across the line. I, like so many others, admired the fact that she immediately admitted to what she’d done.
“When you screw up, you have to be aware that you can get caught,” she told the German magazine Triathlon in 2007. (You can read the translation of that article here.) “In spite of everything, it was a good thing that I at least confessed to my doping offense and didn’t go the way that so many convicted dopers do. I was honest – and I give myself credit for that.”
For those who got to know her in her new-found home of Clermont, Florida, though, there was much more to her story than that one incident. Kraft made Clermont home for more than a decade.
“I now train a lot in Clermont, Florida,” she said in that 2007 interview. “When I first went there, I wondered what the Americans would think of me. But they approached me openly and said: ‘It’s great that you’re back, and it’s good that you told the truth. Everyone deserves a second chance.'”
“She was very much welcomed and accepted in the Clermont community,” says Kimberly Grogan, a friend and training partner whose entire family (her husband Kevin and their two children) cherished their time with Kraft. “There were so many shiny parts to her story – she was so giving. Everybody around her loved her. So many people have stories and remember what she said to them.”
Kraft is remembered as a mentor to many, and as an athlete who always provided encouragement and support.
“Nina, my only hope is that you are remembered for all the beautiful things you were in this world, not your one mistake,” her friend and training partner Kerry Librada Girona wrote on Facebook. “Because I know you wouldn’t want that & it’s not who you were. Not everyone got to see your work ethic first hand. Not everyone got to see you race. Not everyone got to see your determination, grit, toughness, mental fortitude, and not everyone got to see that you were also soft, and kind, and caring.”
“You can leave this world knowing you truly lived, and gave so much to so many, and so so much to me,” Librada Girona continued.
“It is with such profound pain that again I mourn someone so loving and integral in my life,” says Hammy Handwerker, a friend for almost 20 years. “Nina was so much deeper and loving than most anyone knew. Maybe because she had such a tough exterior, was so stereotypical German, had won numerous Ironman races around the world, and the public saw her as so other-worldly, so much so that she was at times referred to as ‘Nina die Maschina.’ Most people never knew the real Nina because they refused to see the human, fragile, loving Nina; they only focused on her biggest mistake which she owned up to immediately and with such a sincere, self-inflicted broken heart. Her depression ate her alive — it is a feeling so many endurance athletes go through.”
During a training camp I was running for kids in Clermont one year, I asked Kraft if she would come and speak to the group. She tried to say she couldn’t because of her English, then tried to say they wouldn’t be interested in hearing from her. When I said it would mean a lot to them, she agreed. She was a hit.
“There were so many people she would train with and help who were all different speeds,” Grogan says. “She had an impact on so many of the people she met. There were a lot of people who didn’t know her story here, and even if they did, it didn’t matter to them.”