Kevin Tran, The Iron Monk
The universal challenge of triathlon is balancing training with work and family commitments. Nobody knows that better than Kevin Tran, who has perfected the art of time management.
The 43-year-old, married, father of three works up to 90 hours, seven days a week as the owner and head chef of Vinh Loi Tofu, a Vietnamese vegan restaurant in Reseda, Calif. Yet he still find time to train and race, even competing in last year’s Ironman Arizona.
“People tell me they don’t have time to train,” Tran says. “Hey, I’m busy with work and family and kids and I find the time. I’m able to motivate a lot of people.”
Vinh Loi Tofu, though located in a modest strip shopping mall far from some of the more glitzy areas of Los Angeles, draws the occasional celend has become something of a destination for Southern California runners and triathletes. Tran hangs his race medals from the ceiling of the restaurant, giving it something of an endurance sports vibe.
Many customers aren’t vegan but come for Tran’s special soups and dishes that have earned rave reviews from The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine and other publications. Tran works the cash register and dining room, taking orders from the counter or, if it’s not too busy, sitting down at tables with customers.
“His personality is what makes the place unique besides the food,” says Michael Pack, a fellow triathlete and occasional training partner. “He loves for people to come in for the first time and not know what they want, and he’ll figure
it out for them.”
Tran grew up in Vietnam, where his father was a soldier who worked for the U.S. government. After the Vietnam War ended, his father was put in jail and the family was sent to live in the jungle, where they resided in a tiny home made of wood and clay, with coconut leaves for the roof.
“It was a horrible-looking place, but actually a good house for that area,” Tran says. “I’m proud to have grown up in it.”
An uncle escaped to the United States in 1983 and three years later he was able to sponsor Tran, his parents, and his two siblings. Tran was 17 when he arrived in 1986, not knowing a word of English.
Before opening the restaurant in 2002, he worked up to three jobs, including owning a beauty supply wholesale business. He says he actually worked more back then and sold the business to spend more time with his wife and their growing family, which now includes daughters ages 13, 8, and 7. “What’s the purpose of working all the time if you can’t see your kids?” he says.
Every six months, Tran shuts down the restaurant for a week and takes the family on a vacation. His wife is a stay-athome mom but fills in at the restaurant if he can’t get to work on time following a weekend race.
His training occurs during off hours, even by triathlete standards. He gets up at 4 a.m. and goes for a run before returning home to take the girls to school. By 9 o’clock, he’s at the restaurant, which opens at 10 from Monday through Saturday and 11 on Sunday, closing at 9 p.m.
Tran took up triathlon in 2011, inspired by some of his regular customers, and taught himself to swim watching YouTube videos. “I’m an Ironman who doesn’t know how to swim,” he jokes, adding that his 13-year-old, who also is a triathlete, has helped refine his stroke. He belongs to a health club with a pool that’s open until midnight and will squeeze in a swim after work before heading home. He’ll bike with a group in the morning in the hilly area around his neighborhood but swims and runs alone, generally getting by on four hours of sleep a night.
He’s often asked how he can thrive in such a hectic lifestyle, let alone in triathlon, by following a vegan diet. A late grandmother was a vegan for 54 years and Tran, who is 5-foot-8 and 156 pounds, has followed the diet for 11 years.
“People will say, ‘You have to eat meat to be strong,’” he says. “But I feel great all the time, have plenty of energy. I never worry about not getting enough protein. I own a protein factory.” Tran says he plans to do another Ironman event and will travel to Cabo San Lucas this summer to train. He’s inspired numerous customers and friends to take up the sport, including Pack, a fellow 43-year-old who quit smoking, got into shape, and now is aiming for Ironman Arizona in 2014. “Kevin is just so inspiring,” says Pack, who has been a vegan himself for two years.
Tran says his business and his training go hand in hand as he wants to educate people on the benefits of eating healthy and living an active lifestyle.
“I don’t have time for any of this, but I find a way to make it work,” he says. “Don’t tell me you don’t have time or you have to eat meat to be strong. You can make it work and achieve whatever you want in life. There are no excuses.”
Written by Pete WilliamsSource: Summer USA Triathlon Magazine www.usatriathlon.org