Kent Kids Complete Second-Annual Tree City Triathlon
88 children showed up to bike, swim and run
The grounds of Theodore Roosevelt High School are filled with children.
Some saunter around with towels hung around their necks, while others tack numbers onto bright yellow T-shirts. Meanwhile, parents holding cups of coffee slather sunscreen on their little ones and drape them in sweatshirts and blankets.
It’s just after 7 a.m., and 88 kids are preparing to start the 2nd Annual Tree City Triathlon, a charity event for youth held in Kent.
The triathlon is for athletes between 4 and 17 years old. The event is broken down into age groups, with each group completing different swimming, biking and running requirements. The course moves through both the high school and Stanton Middle School campuses and was held Saturday.
Proceeds from the triathlon go to Kids Soles, an organization that purchases athletic shoes from Ritchies Sporting Goods and donates them to Portage County children who can't afford to buy their own.
Erik Martin, 8, is a new participant to the event, but he said he remembered the first Tree City Triathlon.
“My brother did it last year, and I saw him, and it looked fun,” Erik said.
Erik’s father, Kevin Martin, said he was looking forward to the event “just for (my kids) to have a good experience and build their character a little bit,” he said. “Have them test their endurance and have them test themselves a little bit more.”
Mayor Jerry Fiala, also a newcomer to the triathlon, was invited to kick off the first race.
“I’m tickled to death to see all these little young athletes perform,” he said.
As the crowd congregates, Maria McCarty, triathlon coordinator, addresses parents’ anxieties about the competition during her opening speech. The kids, however, don’t seem to share the adults’ nervousness about what the morning will entail. They’ve come prepared.
Sam Rubin, 10, is a returner to the triathlon, and he trained a bit before the big day.
“I’m on the swim team,” he said. “I’ve done a few long bike rides. I’ve been running a few times.”
He isn’t alone. Lily Pszonowsky, 6, practiced biking.
“I did gliding and riding with my pedals,” Pszonowsky said, zipping up her powder-blue sweatshirt.
Her cousin, Miriam Stanley, 9, prepared, too.
“I rode my bike around my whole entire neighborhood once,” she said.
As it nears 8 a.m., kids warm up by stretching and doing jumping jacks to Say Hey by Michael Franti & Spearhead. Shortly after they finish, Fiala steps up to the microphone to talk to the athletes.
“There’s not a better thing than to hear kids are helping kids, and that’s part of what today’s about,” he said. “The council I represent and myself, we want you to have a good day, and it’s my understanding now that I’m supposed to tell the first wave to head for the pool. So let’s get started!”
As the youngest children are herded into the swimming pool area to begin, parents offer last-minute advice about how to succeed in the triathlon. The next several hours are filled with a blur of splashing, cycling and running, as more than 50 volunteers help the kids move from one portion of the event to the next.
Before 10 a.m., the race is over for Pszonowsky, who finished first out of the females in the 4- to 6-year-old age group. She sports a medal and holds a half-eaten banana as she walks to watch Stanley end the race. After deciding that biking was her favorite part and running was the hardest part, she grabs her mother’s hand.
“Now I’m going to cheer on Miriam,” she said.
The triathlon finishes at the stadium. When participants enter, their names and numbers are called out over the cheering as they cross the finish line.
While Stanley walks off the track and gulps water, she agrees with her cousin that running was the most difficult part of the triathlon.
“You had to swim,” she said. “Then you have to ride your bike a mile and run half a mile, which makes it hard because of all the things you did before it.”
Soon after, Rubin appears in the stadium, finishing second out of the 10-year-old males. For him, running was also a challenging aspect of the course.
“There was someone behind me trying to pass me every five seconds,” he said. “I kept on having to speed up.”
Even so, he said he enjoyed the event.
“I don’t have a favorite part,” Rubin said. “I like all of it.”
The sole participant in the last wave and the final competitor to complete the triathlon is 17-year-old Cash Harris, who runs in as clapping erupts from the stands. Harris, a member of the swimming, track and cross country teams at Crestwood High School, has swept his age group.
“There was some good competition last year, but nobody showed up this year,” he said. “I like competing.”
Though the final amount of money raised is still being calculated, Susan Adair, triathlon coordinator, deems the event a success.
”I think it turned out great. We are so excited,” she said. “We had a lot of repeaters, so they seem more comfortable in just the whole idea of participating in a triathlon, which is good, and then that kind of helps set a good example for the new kids who have never done one before.”
For a listing of the participants’ times, check out the Tree City Triathlon website later this week.