Couples Who Compete

5 Local Couples Share How Competition Has Brought Them Closer

For these couples, the saying “a little competition never hurt anyone” is more than a pithy proverb, it’s an accepted axiom. Whether they met through the sport and fell in love over a common competitive mindset or one partner introduced the other to their passion over time, they all agree that the mutual love for their chosen sport has brought them closer together.


By Lucy Morris

Danny & Annette Tolliver

For this dynamic couple, running is more than just a way to stay fit. As members of the local Team RWB (Red, White, and Blue) chapter, running allows them to also show support for war veterans, including their fathers and uncles as well as their daughter who currently serves in the military.


CS: How did you two meet?

DT: We met at the Red Food Store. She was working a bake sale, and I was bagging groceries. I went out and talked to her, and she asked me to get her a sandwich. This year we will have been married for 34 years.

AT: That was his test. He passed.

CS: Did you both have an interest in running before you became a couple, or did one of you encourage the other to get involved?

DT: She started running before I did.

AT: I was doing bodybuilding competitions first and would run to cross-train. My friend encouraged me to do the Country Music Half Marathon with her, and I agreed and started training. Then I saw they had a full marathon too, and I wanted to push myself, so I decided to do that instead. I went up and did it myself. My friend never even trained [laughs]. From there, I started doing more races. But Danny was always there to support me, always by my side. He was at every race taking pictures. So one day I recommended he join me!

CS: How do you two train together? Is it helpful to have a partner to push you?

DT: Since she’s more advanced than I am, when we train together she’ll ask what I want to run, and we’ll do that. She always pushes me, but if I get tired and want to walk, she’s okay with that. We’re always focused on getting our miles in one way or another.

CS: What benefits have you gained in your relationship from this common interest?

DT: Closeness.

AT: I would say that too. Our kids are older now, so now we can travel and race in cities we’ve never been to. We get to see the world together.

CS: What advice do you have for other couples who compete in the same sport?

AT: Support is the biggest thing. We
support each other whether we’re both racing that day or not, and I think that helps a lot.

DT: I’d say learn how to be patient. Sometimes I can’t keep up with her, but I’m faster on the bicycle. So we both can be patient with each other.

(above) photo by Rich Smith

Spencer & Ali Whittier

After meeting through friends, this twosome forged more than a relationship they forged a path in the sport of cycling. But while both are strong competitors in their individual racing units, they agree that the opportunity to share the same hobby has brought them closer as their own family unit.


CS: Did you both have an interest in cycling before you became a couple, or did one of you encourage the other to get involved?

AW: Spencer’s been involved in cycling and triathlon forever. He was on a team as a teenager and ran cross country in college, so he came from an endurance background. I didn’t do any of that. I grew up a dancer and ball player. I hated running. When I met Spencer, I finally got a bike, and my interest grew from there.

SW: She was coming to watch my races, and eventually she decided she wanted to try it for herself. Now we can go on rides together, which is really nice. It’s great to have someone who 100% understands wanting to go out and do a long bike ride.

CS: Are there times it’s difficult
to participate in the same sport?

AW: Spencer is incredibly talented, given he started competing at an early age. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself knowing how much faster he is and worry that I’m slowing him down. I’ve had to learn to let those feelings go when they come.

SW: Sometimes I think I’m being helpful, but my comments may not come across the way I think they do. We had to figure out we both communicate differently as athletes than when we’re at home relaxing.

CS: What benefits have you
gained in your relationship from
this common interest?

SW: Not as much conflict. This sport takes a lot of time – I do six-hour rides on the weekends and also ride during the week. If she wanted to do something entirely different, that might be hard. Now we’re in sync during the week and have the same goals.

AW: It’s been a plus for us. We both have high-stress jobs, so we’re lucky to have this same outlet to manage our stress. We both get it and have a nice rhythm going.

CS: Do you have advice for other couples looking to get into the
same sport?

SW: Let it happen organically. Don’t push too much at first – just ease into it.

AW: Give it a shot. Cycling has been really good for us. It’s a really great, low-impact sport with a lot of different opportunities. If you can find a hobby that you both connect with and you can spend time together doing it, that makes for a positive relationship.

(above) photo by Rich Smith

Richard & Pat Millman

For this couple, the accolades they’ve earned from their sport (and there are many – both national champions and well-decorated coaches) are nowhere near as important to them as the closeness and understanding for each other that they’ve gained from their shared passion over the last two-and-a-half decades.


CS: When did you get interested
in squash?

PM: I took up the sport when I was about 30. I had two small children and needed a sport that wouldn’t take up too much time, and that they could play too. That’s actually how Richard and I met.

RM: My lifelong squash addiction started at age 12. I played at Gresham’s School, a boarding school in England. By the time I was a senior, I had started coaching the younger kids, which put me on the coaching path that eventually brought us to Chattanooga and Scenic City Squash.

CS: How do you two train together? Is it helpful to have a partner to push you?

PM: He does frustrate me very often [laughs], but we have played and coached together for 25 years. We have quite an amazing relationship because we both have major respect for each other.

RM: We’re very measured in the way we speak to each other. As coaches, whether we’re coaching each other or coaching new players, we focus on speaking positively. I’ve won multiple national championships, and in every one, she has been my coach. I coached her through her national championship win as well. Though it’s an individual event, we act as a team and coach each other.

CS: What benefits have you
gained in your relationship from
this common interest?

PM: Squash is Richard’s love. It’s not a job – he lives and breathes it. If I didn’t have love for the sport, it could be difficult. But since I love it almost as much as he does, I can understand. I know what it takes for him to have to keep up that level of concentration, both mentally and physically.

RM: She is so understanding, and it makes it easy for me. If I come home from a really difficult lesson or if I’ve had a lesson that just builds me up, I can tell her all about it. I can’t imagine what it must be like for couples who don’t have a shared passion. We’re so lucky.

CS: Do you have advice for other couples looking to get into the
same sport?

RM: If you compete in the same sport, and you appreciate each other and train together, your longevity in the sport is likely to be better.

PM: And in your marriage!

(above) photo by Rich Smith

Greg & Amy Russell

For these two who met on a softball field nearly 20 years ago – she was a player and he was an umpire – the connection was instant. Today, their passion for athletics remains, but their sport of choice has made the turn. Now they hit the links together every weekend!


CS: Did you both have an interest in golf before you became a couple, or did one of you encourage the other to get involved?

GR: I grew up around golf – my dad played a lot. I never took it that seriously when I was younger, instead choosing to play baseball and softball. But in the last five or six years, I’ve started taking it much more seriously.

AR: I played college basketball at Northwest Missouri State University, so athletics have always been a part of my life. After college, I was an official and then head coach. When we moved here and I left my coaching job, I needed a hobby. Greg was playing golf, so I decided to take it up too.

CS: What’s your dynamic like when you play together?

AR: We are very competitive, but we definitely both want each other to become better golfers. We’re always pushing each other to improve our games.

GR: We’re competitive but like to keep it fun. We make bets for chores at home.

CS: What benefits have you gained in your relationship from this common interest?

AR: We both work very high-paced jobs, and he travels about three weeks a month, so golf is like a getaway for us; we’re able to relax. One day we went out to the Club and played three rounds in a row.

GR: It’s a quiet time with no interruptions. We can get caught up on the week and what’s been happening in each other’s lives. It’s really nice to share the same hobby. Some couples have date nights, but this is our time to catch up and reconnect – as long as she doesn’t beat me [laughs].

CS: Do you have advice for other couples looking to get into the same sport?

GR: Find something you both enjoy and make time for it.

AR: I was intimidated when I started playing with him because I didn’t want to slow him down. But just getting the encouragement from him made me want to keep coming out. He was patient, and it made me want to become a better player and make it enjoyable for both of us.

(above) photo by Lanewood Studio

Jim Hibbs & Dr. Siobhan Duff

For this active duo, rowing is more than just a shared hobby – it’s a way of life. While they’ve each won championships, broken records, and been inducted into the hall of fame, the greatest thing they’ve gained from their time on the water is a sense of mutual respect and admiration.


CS: How did you two meet?

SD: There’s a unique event called the Royal St. John’s Regatta in our hometown in Canada – six-seat boats with no sliding seats. We were both involved in that regatta for years, which is how we met.

JH: The sport definitely brought us together. I had probably been rowing for 10 or 12 years at the time we met, and it was another seven or eight years before we officially became a couple.

CS: How did you both get involved in rowing?

JH: As a kid, I went from a swimming career to a hockey career, and then at 16, I tried rowing for the first time. I lived a quarter mile from the lake, and rowing is hugely popular up there, so we put a juvenile crew together one summer. I fell in love and here we are!

SD: For me, it was recommended by a friend. It’s the biggest community participated sport in the area, and my friend said, ‘Hey, you’d like this!’ so I gave it a shot.

CS: What is it like to train and race together? Is it helpful to have a partner to push you?

JH: Sometimes yes, sometimes not so much [laughs]. We tend to push each other to make sure we both get a good workout in, but we always know how to recognize when the other is tired and may need a bit of a break.

SD: Jim and I both have very strong personalities, and masters rowing tends to not have hands-on coaching, so we’re coaching from within the boat. People joke that a mixed double is called a divorce boat, so we avoid that and stick to larger boats [laughs]. Racing and training together, we’re spending a lot of time under tense circumstances, but it has never been an issue for us. We get up at 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock in the morning to row. You have to have someone equally as passionate to make that sort of scenario work.

CS: What benefits have you gained in your relationship from this common interest?

SD: Beyond our health, the fact that we’re doing the same thing creates less conflict. We both understand the insanity of what we do. We can look at each other, understand each other, and support each other.

(above) photo by Rich Smith

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