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YMCA program preps children for triathlon
Molly O’Rourke, 7, stands by her bike during a recent triathlon training session at the Forsyth County Family YMCA. - photo by Hilary Buschek

On the Net

The kids’ triathlon training program this summer at the Forsyth County Family YMCA is full, but anyone interested can still sign up to be a part of the triathlon. To register, visit

The Forsyth County Family YMCA is helping local children participate in a triathlon — one just for kids.

In a kids’ triathlon the distances are shorter and the participants, of course, are younger. Children between the ages of 6 and 15 can take part in the Atlanta Kids Triathlon on Aug. 25 at the West Gwinnett Aquatic Center in Norcross.

The local YMCA is holding an eight-week free training session, which began a few weeks ago.

“So many kids are so soccer oriented or so football oriented,” said Kerry Carithers, the membership and wellness director of the local YMCA. “Some of them just haven’t found their niche in a team sport, so this is good for them.”

The children’s triathlon has two age group levels. Children 6 to 10 will swim 100 yards, bike three miles and run half a mile to complete their triathlon. Kids 11 to 15 must swim 200 yards, bike six miles and run one mile.

The YMCA training program is free and sponsored by the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta of Forsyth County. It has 87 participants and focuses on each of the skills for two weeks before concluding with two weeks of general fitness.

Each session helps the kids learn about the safety and rules of each event, such as how to dive, how to pass someone on a bike and using hand signals on a bike.

“I think parents really like that the training is in three different areas,” Carithers said.

The program is in its second year. Emily O’Rourke, a Forsyth County resident and mother of three, said she heard about it from a neighbor who had a positive experience last year.

O’Rourke runs half-marathons regularly and said she enjoyed being active outside with her children, ages 3, 5 and 7. Her oldest daughter, Molly, will be in the triathlon in August.

“I’m really excited about the triathlon itself,” Emily O’Rourke said. “Usually, I’m the one running and they are watching.”

At which Molly O’Rourke quickly interjected:  “This time you’ll get to watch me.”

One long-term goal of the training sessions, Carithers said, is to inspire the children to become active within their families, not just at the training sessions, which are held twice a week.

“The plan is really creating family fitness instead of just for the kids,” Carithers said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

Kim McKenna, a wellness coach at the YMCA who is one of four trainers during the sessions, said she sees great improvement in the kids who train.

“[Last year] a lot of them started off kind of timid,” McKenna said. “And by the end of the eight weeks, you can see how much they’ve improved, how much their confidence builds.”

In running, McKenna said, the kids often struggle, but also improve the most.

McKenna said the training sessions are all about encouraging the kids, so the group is a mix of all skill levels and anyone who needs help gets extra one-on-one time with a trainer.

Of the group of kids who trained with the Forsyth YMCA last year, 12 placed in the top 10 of their age groups.