Rebecca Stevenson says the only running she does is from her Concord home to the school bus stop when she’s running behind schedule in the mornings.
But competing on a summer swim team for the past five years was enough to lure her to the sport of triathlon and a program offered this summer for the first time at the Cannon Memorial YMCA’s West Cabarrus branch.
For the past six weeks, Rebecca, a Jay M. Robinson High School freshman, has been working out with the Kids Triathlon Training Club.
On Sept. 14, she will be competing in her first event, the Kids Tri-Now race, at the West Cabarrus Y and Afton Village.
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With a dozen or so other members, ages 5 to 16 years old, Rebecca has been learning how to keep herself fit through swimming, running and biking, and how to pace herself in a race that encompasses all three.
“I’ve learned the fastest isn’t always the best,” said Rebecca, 14. “You have to keep up your pace. If you sprint from the start, you’re going to get tired and fall behind.”
Cabarrus County residents and experienced triathletes Lori Beaver and Kris Spokas are the club’s coaches. In the past three years, they have participated in four triathlons together and have become regular training partners.
Running together on a rainy November day last year, Beaver broached the subject of starting a local youth triathlon club to Spokas, coach of the West Cabarrus YMCA Blue Dolphins Summer Swim Team.
The two both were familiar with similar programs in other communities and felt they could fill a void in Cabarrus County. The Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatic Center, for example, hosts a kids triathlon series every summer.
“I said she was crazy,” said Spokas. “But the idea evolved and our aquatics director (at the YMCA), Jeremy Cawley, was very supportive of it and it just kind of took off from there.”
“We wanted to spark something where kids could stay fit and have fun,” said Beaver. “The fitness of a triathlon is such a sense of accomplishment. We try to tell them to just finish. It’s their race. That’s the most important thing, and I think they’re getting that. The ability to stay with it the whole time is the main goal.”
Spokas recruited many of the triathlon club’s participants from the Blue Dolphins program, including her sons Michael, 6, and T.J., 9. The boys train for one hour three days a week in two separate age groups: 5- to 9-year-olds and 10- to 16-year-olds.
For the Tri-Now event, distances vary according to age group. Registration will be accepted through the day of the race.
Monty Hughes, an 11-year-old from Midland, is a Blue Dolphin swimmer getting used to running and biking. He’s hoping to build his endurance enough so that he will finish at least in the top 10 in the Kids’ Tri-Now event.
“I think the hardest thing is running, because you’ve already done two other things and you’re exhausted,” said Monty. “You’ve pedaled and pedaled and swam. Your legs feel wobbly after biking, and you try to keep your breath and not run too fast, because then you have to walk and get all tired.”
Bradyn Smith, 10, is one of the few older club members who does not have a strong swimming background. She got acclimated to the water this summer by swimming at The Club at Irish Creek, across the street from her Kannapolis home.
Other younger club members have picked up different aspects of the triathlon’s three disciplines since they started training. Jessie Volz, 6, and Carly Augustyn, 5, recently learned how to swim. Concord resident Nate Caswell is proud of the new seven-speed mountain bike he picked up for his 6th birthday last month.
Elizabeth Luker, 7, learned some key tips about competitive biking. She caught on to the proper ways to mount and dismount a bike, and the importance of keeping her knees straight while pedaling.
Her 12-year-old brother Seth, a veteran 5K runner, is also a member of the Kids Triathlon Training Club.
Cawley, the West Cabarrus Y senior program director for aquatics and youth sports, said the long-term goal for the kids triathlon program is to establish a series of races in which different towns in Cabarrus County will host the events.