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First-Time Triathletes Toe the Line at Youth & Junior Nationals
Tri For Change has given the Konya siblings a new perspective on sport and life
The first time Giovanna (11) and Quentin (9) Konya heard they were going to be swimming 100 meters, biking 5 kilometers, then running 1 kilometer, they couldn’t believe it.
“I thought it was going to be really, really hard at first,” Giovanna says. “But then the more I trained, the more I felt confident in myself. I’m just really excited for this race.”
These two athletes have come a long way since they started the Tri For Change program eight weeks ago, and now they’re ready to participate in their first triathlon at the 2014 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships in West Chester, Ohio. Tri For Change was developed by USA Triathlon to introduce the sport to youth who wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity and to help keep kids healthy and active.
The Konya siblings had participated in organized sports before, but they often sat on the sidelines and worried about letting their teams down if they missed the ball. When their mother, Erica, heard about Tri For Change at the local YMCA, she thought it could be just what they needed.
“I knew it would be a good opportunity for them to gain some self-confidence and to just race against themselves — accomplish and achieve something themselves,” Erica says.
Tri For Change outfitted the kids with essential triathlon gear, and USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach Elyse Jarard taught them the basic skills, including how to swim, bike and run; simple transition tips; how to properly use the equipment provided to them; and good sportsmanship.
“I had no idea all the gear that was needed. Things that, honestly, I couldn’t have afforded,” Erica says. “I’m just amazed at what they’ve been able to do, and the big burden it took off of us as parents.”
Like many of the 16 Tri For Change participants, swimming was the biggest challenge for Giovanna and Quentin, and also the most rewarding. They learned proper swim strokes, how to feel confident in the water while not touching the bottom, and they even had the opportunity to practice an open water swim, just like race day.
“I’ve learned a lot of things,” Quentin says. “I’ve had good experiences and learned things like new strokes and how to run faster.”
For Quentin, triathlon has become a way to help him feel healthy and strong again after being hospitalized two years ago and diagnosed with a rare bladder disorder.
His body started to recover, but the impact of being healthy one day to being sick in the hospital the next day and undergoing tests made it hard for him to recover psychologically and emotionally.
“My son gets a lot of questions like ‘How are you feeling?’ because everyone knew that he was sick for so long. Those are really sweet things to say, but sometimes it gets tiring to have to talk about being sick all the time,” Erica says. “But now, I’ve heard him say ‘I’m doing great and I’m doing a triathlon.’ And I think it’s his way of saying, ‘I really am doing great, and I really am healthy — so much that I’m doing a triathlon.’”
Learning about triathlon has been about much more than swimming, biking and running for these youth athletes. Being an individual sport, it’s given them a tremendous sense of accomplishment and the ability to think strategically about problems. It’s also been a great opportunity to meet new friends and have fun while getting in shape.
“[Tri For Change] has really helped me to appreciate how awesome triathlon is for kids,” Elyse says. “They’re working on their gross motor skills, fine motor skills, problem solving and sequencing. There are so many processes involved, that are not only developmental skills, but they’re lifelong skills, too.”
It forces the kids to think for themselves, Elyse explains. In team sports, they’re only out there for a short time and there’s a coach or parents on the sideline to offer advice. But in triathlon, the kids go out there on their own and they’ve got to figure it out. Whether they get water in their goggles or feel tired on the run, triathlon has taught the Tri For Change kids how to problem solve and persevere.
Giovanna and Quentin are excited and nervous for their first triathlon at the Voice of America Park this Saturday, but can’t wait to complete the race all by themselves.
More than 800 young triathletes, including the Tri For Change participants, youth age-groupers and junior elite and youth elite athletes will compete at the 2014 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships Aug. 2-3. For more information on the event, visit usatriathlon.org/usatyjr14.