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Popular YMCA program preps youth for triathlon

POSTED: July 27, 2014 12:07 a.m.
Crystal Ledford/

Reed Walker, left, and Kaiden Young get ready to start riding their bikes during a kids triathlon training program Thursday at Grace Chapel.

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SOUTH FORSYTH — With determination written all over their faces, a group of triathletes readied themselves for an afternoon of practice.

Luckily, the intermittent rain Thursday afternoon hadn’t led to any downpours or thunder and lightning, because these cyclists were ready to go.

One by one, they pulled their human-powered vehicles up to a chalk-drawn “start line.” Clicks of helmet straps under chins signaled they were ready to get going.

But these weren’t the typical helmets.

One featured two matching pink triangles on top and a purple cheetah print just above its wearer’s forehead; another, a line of bright orange spikes resembling a Mohawk. Yet another featured the wide, white toothy grin and round green face of mutant cartoon hero.

While they may have been young, most of the riders seemed just as serious about their training as adults who take part in triathlons.  

And that’s a good thing, since these young riders ranging in age from 6 to 15 will be facing some tough competition from across metro Atlanta next month.

Some 130 kids are in training through the Forsyth County Family YMCA for the Atlanta Kids Triathlon on Aug. 24 at the West Gwinnett Park and Aquatics Center in Norcross.

While there, they’ll have to swim, bike and then run.

This the fourth year the local Y has offered a free training program in preparation of the triathlon.

Kerry Carithers, one of the main organizers, said there has been so much interest in the previous programs that two sessions were offered this year.

The first is for kids who have not competed in the event before, or those who have done so just once, while the second session is for children who have taken part twice or more.

“This year we opened our second group that’s more competitive for the kids who have done this a couple of time already,” said Rebecca Kayati, a YMCA employee who helps with the program.

“It’s good because now they can come back and be a little more competitive.”

Between both sessions, some 130 kids are taking part in the training, which is open to anyone regardless of whether they are a YMCA member.

“We have the largest training program in the association so we take great pride in that,” Carithers said.

During the program — which is not accepting any new participants, though kids can still register for the triathlon without going through the training —  children learn all about what it takes to compete in that type of physical challenge.

“That’s the hard part is learning the rules that go with it,” Carithers said. “If they don’t follow those rules, they’ll get disqualified.

“So we work a lot on things like which side they are allowed to pass on and quickness in transitions [between events]. And last week, we worked on bike safety — checking tires and helmets and looking at the track itself.”

Parents and other community members who come to support the kids as they train say the program is a winner.

“I want them to be fit kids so I’m going to try to do this program every year from now on,” said LaShay Young, whose sons Kaiden, 8, and Koi, 6, are first-time participants.

“It’s great and they love it. They look forward to it every week. They do flag football, swim sessions and stuff like that so they’re really into this.”

Beth Buursema, community outreach manager for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Forsyth, said the children’s hospital is happy to sponsor the program.

“This is our second year helping because it’s such a win-win for us to be able to see a program where it’s open to everybody in the community, that’s teaching kids how to do a triathlon and getting them motivated,” she said.

“And then to see their families out here being active with them, it’s all just a win-win.”

Kayati noted that many parents have been inspired by their children to get more fit.

“Some parents say, ‘Oh, my kids are doing this so maybe I should try too,’” she said. “Plus it makes the kids hopefully get their parents to go out with them. You know, they say, ‘I have to run today. Will you please come with me or take me to the trail.’”

Carithers’ husband, R.C., who is an active volunteer with the program, said that’s so important in today’s world, in which childhood obesity and lack of activity are big problems.

 “It seems like kids these days are spending a lot of time inside on the computer,” he said. “I think kids today get preoccupied with a lot of other things, so this is a good way to get them outside, get them active.”

But the kids just seem to have fun.

“I like that we take classes almost, but we also have fun at the same time that we’re working,” said 10-year-old Aplorva Gangaraju, who is also a first-time participant.

She said she the program was a good fit.

“I love running, so every time I play with my friends, I always ask, ‘Are we running or biking?’” she said. “I love doing sports. I do ice skating and tennis and stuff, so I really like being active.

“I think the triathlon is going to be fun. I’m excited because there will be lots of other people and I’m kind of a competitive person, even though it’s not really a race.”

 

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