As I set out to interview Runners of the Month Keiko Tateiwa and Robert Plunkett for this article, I knew they were both strong runners who had moved their family here from Japan. What I didn’t know was… a lot! They have had such interesting experiences, and having learned more about them, it is easy to see why they are such extremely talented athletes!
Robert was born in Dallas, TX and spent part of his youth in Key Largo, Florida where he learned water skiing and sailing. His family eventually moved back to the Lone Star State to Boerne, TX, a town nestled in the Hill Country northwest of San Antonio. He spent his more formative years in this small, close-knit community, which he fondly considers his American hometown.
Born in the historic port city of Nagasaki, Japan, Keiko moved at an early age to Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan outside of Tokyo. She grew up in this vibrant, multi-cultural city where futuristic skyscrapers tower over centuries-old gardens and temples. Keiko started running track in middle school and continued through high school. After that, she didn’t run for a while, except for a race here and there whenever her old school buddies got together. After years off from the sport, it wasn’t until moving to Nolensville that she became truly inspired to run again by joining the Nolensville Running Club.
Unlike Keiko, Robert did not play sports in school. Still, from the time he was seven years old, his parents would send him and his brother to a month-long camp called Camp Champions in Marble Falls, TX. There they were exposed to pretty much every sport there is on both land and water! While it gave him a fundamental skill set in each sport, he remembers he wasn’t particularly gifted with any of them except sailing and waterskiing. He enjoyed it so much he ended up working summers there while in college. (Cool fact: He was a camp counselor to Drew Brees!) Foreshadowing his future, Robert took a running class in college just for the elective. The coach said he had some potential, but he didn’t follow up on it at the time.
Robert spent the last 24 years in Japan, more than half his life, before returning back to the States in 2015. While in Japan, he actively pursued his passion for inline skating, a sport he’d gotten into in 1990. He became a pro, skating for a leading global inline brand, ROCES, and was a member of the Good Skates Japan (GSJ) Team doing half-pipe shows and competitions.
“I used to joke with my skate buds that I would never date anyone unless they skated,” says Robert. “Sure enough, one day on the other side of a 10ft half-pipe was a beautiful skater-girl named Keiko. She said ‘yes’ to dinner and the rest is history.”
They decided to move their family here in May, 2015. Robert’s company, UBS, was expanding an office in Nashville and it seemed like a great opportunity for both his career and for Keiko and the kids to learn English so he took the offer. He works as a Risk Analyst and now heads the team which he feels is a challenging and rewarding role where everyday is different. When looking for a town to raise their family, he admits that one of the reasons he was drawn to Nolensville was because it reminded him of the cozy, community of Boerne.
Now that she’s all settled in to her new life in Nolensville, Keiko is always on the go. She swims and runs everyday, and enjoys baking. Learning a new language has had its confusing moments (see Speed Round section below), but Keiko is a quick study and looks forward to the fun and productive things she can do as her English becomes more fluent.
Robert and Keiko have each qualified for the Boston Marathon, a feat few are able to accomplish. Needless to say, when I asked Robert when he started running, I had to laugh when he answered, “Whenever Keiko made me!”
The story goes, that when they were dating, Keiko had to drag Robert to run the few half-marathons and running relays she would do with her old high school buds. He ran the events, but he was so obsessed with skating he never got the running “bug”.
It was a different result though when she forced him to sign up for the Rock and Roll Half in 2016. For some reason it clicked. He had a blast in that race. Maybe it was the great atmosphere, maybe it was the “fastie” endorphins, but he has really been hooked since then.
Keiko’s experiences from her high school track days built a solid foundation, which she maintained as an occasional runner spurred to lace up for fun events with friends. Now, she says, NRC is the driving force for her.
Had Keiko and Robert picked a house on any other street to rent when they arrived in America, they may not have found out about NRC so soon, but they happen to pick a street that is perfect for hill training. They’ll never forget the first time they found out about the club.
“It was day two after arriving in Nolensville from Japan. We had a rental in Ballenger Farms at the top of Achilles Hill,” says Robert. “We were trying to get over our jet lag when we heard a commotion outside early in the morning. We looked out to see Yong Kim and Scott Alexander doing sprint drills with a group of runners. We went outside to meet them and were encouraged to stop by the Wednesday night run.”
Keiko started meeting with the crew that next week! She went regularly for six months, and when the annual Halloween Run came around, she convinced Robert that it would be fun and he should go. The costumed creativity that abounds at the NRC Halloween Run is always epic, so naturally he had a great time. He’s been running with NRC ever since.
Now focused in on running as his sport, Robert has been crushing it! He is very happy with his PR of 3:18:54 at his first Marathon (Indianapolis Monumental) in November 2016 and has found himself on a podium more than a few times; still, he admits he was surprised by his PR (1:29:57) at Oak Barrel last year.
Keiko may not make a big deal about her successes, but she has also been working very hard to reach her goals. She earned a stellar PR (3:46) at the hilly Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon in 2017, only one week after finishing the Nashville Rock and Roll Marathon where temperatures sailed into the 80s!
It isn’t just Mom and Dad lacing up for races. Their entire family has run the Franklin Classic for the past two years and they are all signed up for the 2018 Hot Chocolate 15k.
Clearly both Robert and Keiko have proven their skills as runners through a number of accomplishments, so I was curious as to whether they felt running came naturally to them.
“I think my skating days gave me the strength and stamina I needed,” Robert says. “When starting to run with NRC, I went through the normal initial pains (knees, shins, feet, toes, etc.), but now I feel broken-in and I can enjoy a long run in bliss.”
Keiko put it this way, “I believe running comes naturally to me, but having to train for a BQ is not! Brutal!”
It helped that she competed in Synchronized Ice Skating through college, which built up good leg strength and endurance. She’s still got it, too! Recently she donned her skates again when Nolensville had its first snow and she and Robert went ice-skating on a frozen Mill Creek!
After learning more about Robert, I asked if he would call himself competitive. He answered, “Not so much competitive but passionate. I believe if one is going to do something they should be all-in. To that extent, I think people would refer to me as ‘focused’. When I pick up a hobby, I like to dive 110% into it and not budge or give up till all is accomplished.”
As for Keiko, she is one tough athlete, yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen her not smiling! She has a soft, friendly demeanor, but she also has an inner strength that gives her the ability to push through goals with an unstoppable momentum.
Robert and Keiko have started on a new goal – to complete the running of a marathon in every state! They have done seven states so far and 2018 looks to be a busy year. They are now training for the Atlanta Marathon in March and the esteemed Boston Marathon in April. They plan to check Illinois off their list too, having signed up for the Chicago Marathon in October.
“We would like another BQ in one of those if the opportunity presents itself and the training pays off,” says Robert.
Well, your NRC family believes in you and you can rest assured no matter what, we’ll be there to train with you, cheer you on, and of course, give a big high five at the finish line!
Keiko– Speed Round:
Favorite winter day meal: Beef Stew
Dream splurge: I’d buy a red Jeep!
Strangest American expression you’ve heard: “Awesome” as it sounds like the Japanese phrase “ah, samui” meaning “it’s cold”. This did not make sense when hearing this uttered while running in the heat.
Robert – Speed Round:
Must-have gear: Garmin watch, so I can adjust my training
Dream splurge: Flying lessons to get my pilot’s license
Non-running hobby: Airsoft (see my youtube vids! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-hzCRVHyE28GqH7VvxqT1g?view_as=subscriber or online gaming (FPS)