One of the things I (we) hope to achieve through living a healthy, active and fitness oriented lifestyle is that our kids pick up on the subtle cues they are exposed to each day and make it part of the rest of their lives. Tara and I grew up in a generation where our parents were fairly naive to many of healthier choices that we now view as common knowledge. Hence, our decade long struggle to obtain versus maintain a healthy lifestyle. From the onset, we were determined to show our kids a better way, giving them the tools to live their life without limits and filled with health and happiness.
Our kids are no different than any other 8 and 5 year olds. They want to play with their friends, eat junk food, watch TV and they give us a fight at homework time. However, by seeing firsthand the active lives that Tara and I lead, they are exposed to situations that their peers are typically not. Case in point, I get up at 4:00 AM every morning (7 days a week) to train. Because I do that, I need to go to bed at 9:15 PM which makes the kid's bedtime around 7:45 PM. My kids just accept this as "normal". But what they don't know is that other kids are staying up way later, watching more TV and eating junk food on a daily basis. In this case, it's good that they are in the dark.
What they also see as "normal" is the participation in endurance sports and activities. To them, triathlon is just something we do, not the suffer-fest it really is. Despite the seemingly short distances in kid's races, it is all relative and a 1-mile kids fun run could be the equivalent of an adult 10K. They work just as hard, it hurts them just as much and they are just as wrecked as we are at the finish line. This is why I am so proud of both my kids, especially Alasdair for competing in his first triathlon. By the way, Avery is chomping at the bit to do these events, but she is still a bit too young!
The lead up to the race was actually unintended. A few months ago, I stumbled upon a link for a junior triathlon training camp, sponsored by The Runner's Edge, The Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC) and supported by the Town of Oyster Bay. I asked Alasdair if he wanted to go to the pre-camp info meeting to see what it was all about. To our surprise, the camp was being run and coached by some of the more elite USAT coaches (and athletes) in our area. The kicker was that this program was for 8 weeks, held on Saturday evenings (a time that worked well for this busy family) and the total cost was $25. No, not for each week, for ALL 8 WEEKS! How could we possibly say no to this? We registered on the spot.
The point of the camp was to expose kids to a sport they probably have zero experience in, so it was tailored just right. Starting with the basics of how to put on a swim cap, the basic freestyle swim stroke, how to set up transition, how to get out of transition quickly, bike handling skills and running technique. The coaches worked with the kids each week, making it fun and educational, while still pushing them to complete the sessions. Remember, this is still an endurance sport. I cannot think of any team sports that have 8-year old kids running and biking MILES each session. The kids rose to the occasion, dug deep at times and completed the sessions with smiles on their faces.
The camp was designed to introduce kids to the world of triathlon and train them to complete a junior triathlon race in the same venue. To me, this was a novel idea. For eight weeks, the kids practically ran the race that they were going to do at the end of the camp. On race day, every kid that participated in the camp was primed and ready to go. They just had to do what they have been doing for the last two months. I can't thank the coaches enough for their patience, expertise, guidance and dedication to making it a great experience for both the kids and the parents.
Family and gear packed up in the family truckster, we headed out to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay, NY. Alasdair was overflowing with excitement when we arrived and he realized that he would have to check in, get body marked and activate his timing chip, just like I have done. I think this was one of the most exciting parts for him as he realized that this was not one of those "fun runs" that he has done, but a real-life, adult-like triathlon!
I helped him set up his transition area, where he LOVED my little trick of pouring baby powder on a towel and then folding it over to cover it up. When he entered T1, all he would have to do it unfold the towel and stomp his feet in the powder covered towel to dry his feet from the swim. We then walked transition a few times, getting him familiar with where his bike, entries and exits were. Then, the pre-race briefing. Again, the kids loved this because they were being treated like real athletes.
There were over 200 kids participating in the event, ranging in age from 7 to 14. The best way to assure the safety of all the kids was to break the race up into 3 waves and wait for each wave to complete the course before the next wave started. This meant that each wave would be starting about 20 minutes apart from each other. Although it made for a long wait, it was the right call.
Obviously, when you get over fifty 7,8 and 9 year old kids geared up, in the water and then ask them to wait almost 40 minutes, kids will be kids. They were all jumping around, diving under water and basically expending energy they would need to race. They just didn't care, they were having fun! One side effect of this playing around is that it was all done in shallow water. This meant that all the silt from the ground was kicked up and turned the water very murky. Once the kids started their swim, they were all covered in black dirt. Every kid exited the water with black faces and filthy clothing.
Alasdair did a great job swimming. Although he did walk a few times, he always went back into a swim stroke. Finishing in the middle of the pack, I think that was the best we have seen him swim to date. He emerged from the water (covered in silt) and made a mad dash for T1. The kid was pumped and ready to hit the bike.
T1 was super smooth. He did everything we practiced and was out on the bike course in no time. Alasdair rode well, didn't go crazy and had a great 3-lap bike split. It was great to see the kids break out huge smiles when they rounded the area where the parents were cheering them on. We were cheering loudly for every kid as they came around and I am sure that it sounded like thousands of people to them. Some kids were so excited that they got lost in the joy and almost crashed into the parents!
Alasdair finished the bike and went into T2 with a full head of steam. He headed out on to the run course in a full sprint. Because of the way it was set up, it was difficult for us to see the kids on the run. We positioned ourselves near the finish, so we really didn't get to see him running. When he rounded the corner for the last 200 yards, he was running hard. As soon as he saw the finish line and the spectator lined finishing chute, he broke out into an all out sprint! After 20+ minutes of racing, he poured every last bit of energy into his finish and crossed the finish line at max speed.
He got his medal, had his timing chip removed and grabbed a water from one of the volunteers. As I embraced him at the finish line, I was on the verge of tears, so proud of what he did, the effort he put in and his accomplishment. I started to tell him how proud I was, but he quickly interrupted me to ask where the free bagels were! Ahh, the mind of an 8-year old boy!
Since Alasdair was the only 7-year old in the race, he actually won his age group! He finished in about 24 minutes and loved every second of it. I have to say that every one of those kids did an incredible job. This was not an easy task for most, but they all found it in themselves to finish the race with a smile.
Tara and I encourage our kids to participate in events like this as often as we can. It is difficult to balance encouragement with being overly pushy, but we try our best. We feel that experiences like this build character and have long-lasting effects throughout other parts of their lives.
Both of my kids have also been skiing since they were 3 years old. Last year, Alasdair had a breakout season and really honed his skills. By accident, we wound up in a very precarious situation last year at Jay Peak Resort in Vermont. We took a lift to the top of the mountain. Although I did see the sign stating that a particular trail was closed, it failed to register that the closed trail was the ONLY reasonable way down. We had no choice but to take one of the most difficult trails on the mountain to the bottom. Alasdair took it in stride, overcame his initial hesitation and killed it on the run down.
I now reference the skiing incident and the completion of this triathlon from time to time. My argument is that if you can do those things, how hard can a math or spelling test actually be? His response has always been positive.
Alasdair is now looking forward to his next event, the Carl Hart Fall Duathlon in October, where Tara will also be making her multi-sport event debut!