Other youth triathlons in the country might draw more participants, but no series of races attracts more competitors than the Kids Triathlon Series hosted by the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center.
When the series started three years ago, 48 youths participated in the first event. In today's championship race, the final event of four competitions this season, leaders expect the registration list to top out at 220 participants, the same number that competed in the third race June 18.
Organizers expect to award trophies to 61 youths for participating in all four of the series' races this summer, providing another measuring stick for how popular the Kids Triathlon Series has become. They say it's the largest youth triathlon series in the country that is certified by the U.S. Triathlon Association, the sport's main sanctioning body.
"I like doing the series because it's really like competing, and you really think you can win," said Beryl Shoemaker, 11, of Davidson.
"When I first started, I really wasn't that good," said Murphy Hunn, Beryl's 11-year-old stepbrother. "I was coming in near the bottom of my age group. Now I come closer to the top three."
Youth triathlons at HFFA originated in 2006, when Beryl and Murphy's mom, triathlete Kathy Goody, began offering single-day clinics that lasted a couple of hours. The clinics turned into more comprehensive camps, and Goody started receiving input about coordinating races.
With the help of two of her adult triathlete trainees, Mark and Sarah McGeough, Goody organized the Kids Triathlon Series in 2008. Owners of the Birkdale Animal Hospital, the McGeoughs eventually became series sponsors.
As the competitions exist today, anyone age 4-14 is eligible. Starting with the 4- to 6-year-old age group, distances start with a 25-yard swim, 0.3-mile bike ride and a 100-yard run.
The distances increase through the 13- to 14-year-old group, which swims 100 yards, bikes two miles and runs three-fourths of a mile. The swimming portion is held at HFFA, and the cycling and running legs continue into the adjacent Huntersville Athletic Park.
At the end of each race, the top three finishers in each age division receive medals. At the end of each season, the top three receive trophies.
Four points are awarded for first place in each race, three for second, and so on. Six of the 10 division champions have already been determined.
Local athletes that have already clinched their divisions are T.J. Spokas (Concord, boys ages 4-6), Cade Thompson (Huntersville, boys ages 9-10), Antonio Paredes-Bro (Davidson, 11-12 boys), Jet Francis (Huntersville, 4-6 girls), and Riley Gallagher (Huntersville, 11-12 girls).
Other area competitors who lead their divisions and could seal championships today are Baylor Nelson (Huntersville, boys ages 7-8), Sean Powers (Huntersville, boys ages 13-14), Emme Nelson (Huntersville, girls ages 9-10) and Malia Ellington (Cornelius, 13-14 girls).
Goody has seen participation in her HFFA triathlon camps increase, too. This summer, there has been up to 20 youth at the week-long events.
"It gets them interested in the sport in a fun way," Goody said. "Their running is included in games. Their cycling is learning how to transition and relays. It's still competition. But they push each other."
HFFA also sponsors a youth triathlon club, the Extreme Team, which competes in other events and series.