Kids savor challenge of triathlon


Three kids ride their bikes during the Youth Combine Triathlon on April 13, 2013, at Westside Park in Gainesville Fla.

Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 5:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 5:14 p.m.

Hunter Kittelson, 5, leapt off his bike and jogged, bike in hand, toward the transition area.

Once there, he put down his bike and grabbed a water bottle, which was almost larger than his head. After fumbling with the push-up spout, he tilted his head back to take a large swig only to find disappointment.

"I got it open and no water came out," Hunter exclaimed later.

Not dissuaded, he flashed a beaming smile and quickly took off, tearing off his helmet and heading toward the running part of the kids triathlon.

The Gainesville Tri Hard, a triathlon open to children ages 5 to 15 and organized by Youth Combine, a local youth fitness nonprofit, took place Saturday at Westside Park. The event was the second in a series of five locally organized fitness events named the Gainesville Fitness Series.

"The goal of the event is to provide easy access to a beautiful, fun, safe (and) organized fitness event for the entire family to come out to," said Matthew Howland, executive director of Youth Combine.

The triathlon had the young competitors swimming, bicycling and running in four races divided by age group.

Wearing bathing suits, bright orange swim caps and goggles, the children lined up by the Westside Pool awaiting their mark before diving in the pool one by one in 10-second gaps.

After swimming laps by snaking up one lane and down the next, competitors got out of the pool and quickly headed to the shaded transition area, where they grabbed their bicycles and jogged alongside them to the next starting line.

The bike route had the competitors briefly leave the park by riding into a nearby neighborhood. Once back at Westside Park, competitors moved to the running race — the final section.

The route had competitors running within the grounds of the park, then alongside the pool, where the finish line stood.

University of Florida mascot Albert and the UF Dazzlers dance team, with pom-poms in hand, could be found along the sidelines offering support to participants, while cheers, applause and shouted words of encouragement could be heard coming from parents and family members.

Deborah Carlisi, who attended the event with her four children, two of whom competed in the triathlon, said the family environment made the event special.

"The cool thing for me was when (my son), Josh, finished across the finish line." she said. "All he knows is us, yet there were other parents around cheering and clapping, and they bent over and were like ‘Good Job!' And they don't know who he is, but it's awesome that it's almost like a family atmosphere — but without our family."

The day before the race, Youth Combine hosted multiple orientations, which included a triathlon clinic and a walkthrough of the course so that children and parents would be aware of everything they needed to know about the route, transition areas, security, rules and health concerns.

"We (put) on a triathlon clinic for these kids because maybe 95 percent of these kids have never done this before, and we want the child and their parents to be confident going in … so that they know more about the race and what's expected of their child."

Carlisi, who lives in South Carolina and was visiting with family in Gainesville, said she was a little nervous about the event's security because her children were not familiar with the surrounding area.

After attending orientation, however, she was relieved to find out that police officers were going to be stationed at each exit while volunteers were going to be guiding the children throughout the courses.

"Once I got here and saw how it was being organized, it made me feel so much better — much more comfortable with it," she said.

The triathlon was followed by a mini-trike-and-run event, which had 2- to 4-year-olds race on their tricycles a small lap around the basketball court.

"They still get to run right down the finish (line) just like all the other racers, and they get a medal — and they feel like a million bucks," Howland said.

All participants earned a finishing award after competing, and an awards ceremony was held at noon to recognize first-, second-, and third-place competitors for each of the age groups divided by gender.

About 100 children registered to race in the triathlon's first year, Howland said.

"(I'm) completely blown away," he said. "Very happy — it's exactly what I wanted."

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