Kids That Tri Cleveland Transforms Lives Through Sport
by USA Triathlon Foundation
For two USA Triathlon Foundation ambassadors, coaching a youth triathlon workshop blossomed into involvement in a multisport program making a difference for middle and high schoolers in east Cleveland.
In 2019, longtime triathletes Tove and Jerry Shere answered the call from the Cleveland Sports Commission and helped coach youth triathletes through a short-term program.
“The kids enjoyed it and got to go to Nationals,” Jerry said. “It was wonderful, but the problem was that it was one and done.”
Participants were also much younger, making sustainability difficult. And Jerry and Tove wanted to make an impact for older kids in communities surrounding Cleveland, particularly in underserved neighborhoods.
“It was a huge learning curve for me,” Jerry said. “I had no idea how difficult it was for a kid in east Cleveland to get access to tri and healthy outdoor activities.”
Triathlon became the vehicle for the Sheres to make a lasting impact on the lives of these middle and high schoolers. When local triathlete Mark Brandt founded Kids that Tri Cleveland (KTT), they joined the organization’s board.
KTT creates pathways to swim, bike and run for students in grades 6-12. From April through September, athletes learn to swim, bike and run, with the goal of completing at least one triathlon. The program is completely free and provides students with all the coaching and gear they need, from goggles to running shoes and bikes.
With KTT beginning during the COVID-19 pandemic, finding bikes proved difficult at first. But Jerry’s contacts in the cycling and tri community stepped up, donating over 40 bikes for the team’s fleet, ranging from framesets to complete tri and road bikes.
“We want kids to have a decent bike, so they can walk into transition looking equipped and feeling like they belong,” Jerry said. “One of the things these kids struggle with, they don’t feel part of things. Our program is determined to make them feel part of the community.”
Jerry, who once worked as general manager for Specialized, estimates he’s spent “countless hours” in his basement shop building bikes for participants. But the payoff has been immense.
When Jerry wheeled out a blue Cervelo P2 donated by an athlete in Washington, one youth athlete’s eyes grew wide. “Angel took one look at this beautiful bike, and he was smitten,” Jerry said. “Today, he rides it and is over the moon.”
For Xavier, who joined KTT as a 16-year-old, the program has provided freedom and new experiences.
After learning how to ride, Tove said Xavier would be on his bike from dawn to dusk. “It’s completely changed his life,” she said.
Because Xavier can bike, he no longer needs to rely on public transportation or rides from others. And prior to joining KTT, Xavier had never been to an athletic event. Now, he’s the captain of the team’s cycling group, and takes new riders under his wings.
This year, 25 kids are on the team. Getting them to the start line requires a great deal of assistance, which comes through volunteer coaches, USA Triathlon Foundation Pillar grants, Newton Running and a partnership with the YMCA of Greater Cleveland.
The Sheres and the USA Triathlon Foundation are also generously supported by Cleveland native Bill Conway. A former Team USA athlete, Bill also is involved with USA Triathlon Foundation grant recipient i-tri, a triathlon program for diverse middle school girls in Long Island.
“I’ve stepped away from competing, but I want to continue supporting triathlon,” Bill said. “It makes it even more special when you know the people on the ground doing it. With Tove and Jerry, I can’t think of anyone else who brings more to the table with youth tri.”
While the pandemic has temporarily paused his one-on-one involvement locally, Bill says the youth triathlon effort “takes a village.”
“If you’re in a place in your life where you’re working all the time, you can still be part of it,” he said. “Donors keep the program running, so don’t think, ‘I can’t be involved because I can’t go down and coach kids.’”
Because of support from Bill, the USA Triathlon Foundation and others, KTT athletes now have official team race kits for their busy season, which includes duathlons, triathlons and even the Zone3 Youth and Junior Nationals for a few athletes. The Tri CLE Rock Roll Run is their grand finale, offering races from super sprint to Olympic triathlon, aquabike and duathlon. By the end of August, KTT athletes may have raced as many as six events.
KTT strives to show participants that triathlon is something they can do for a very long time, as well as diversify the sport and make all athletes feel welcome.
Although triathlon hasn’t historically been a very diverse sport, Jerry noted “there are athletes out there breaking the barriers.”
“It’s one of the best sports going for gender equality and inclusivity,” he said. “We take athletes of all levels—whether you walk the run or run 5-minute miles, we applaud your efforts.”
With women’s varsity triathlon on the path toward becoming a NCAA Championship Sport, Tove and Jerry are hopeful one day their athletes will earn a scholarships to college. That dream might be closer than they think, as Jerry said they’ve already had a coach from one college reach out to KTT.
The USA Triathlon Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the charitable arm of USA Triathlon. With its mission to transform lives through sport by providing opportunities to swim, bike and run, the Foundation serves to generate a greater impact on the multisport community through charitable giveback and grants that advance the Foundation’s three pillars: (1) Encourage youth participation; (2) Inspire adaptive athletes; and (3) Ignite Olympic/Paralympic dreams. Since the Foundation was established in 2014, it has provided millions of dollars in grants to organizations and individuals in pursuit of its mission and pillars to create a healthier United States through triathlon.