Parathlete Reid Maxwell gets a high five at the finish line of the 2012 Kinetico Kids of Steel Triathlon in Edmonton.
EDMONTON - Christine Nyback will take part in her third Kids of Steel Triathlon next weekend but she has swum, biked and run the distances dozens of times.
The slight, seven-year-old blond, who swims almost every day at the Millennium Place pool in Sherwood Park, is a familiar sight in her neighbourhood where she trains several times a week after school. She sets the timer on her iPod, a gift from her great-grandpa, then runs as fast as she can to put on her helmet and jump on her bike for a fast spin up the street and around the cul-de-sac in front of her home before jumping off her bike, taking off her helmet and transitioning into a run over the same course. She does this from spring through fall, says her mom, Doreen, who will be doing the adult version of the Edmonton ITU Triathlon World Cup for the third time, as well.
Christine, and her five-year-old brother, Andrew, are among an estimated 200 kids expected to take part in the third annual Kinetco Kids of Steel event. Triathletes aged 11 years old and under swim in the Royal Glenora Club pool, bike along River Valley Road, and run on the paths surrounding the club. Every participant gets a gold finisher medal after crossing the finish line.
Older kids, 12 to 15, get to take part on the same world cup course at Hawrelak Park as the adults do.
It’s a way of introducing kids as young as three to triathlon in a positive and non-competitive environment, says Sheila Findlay, a volunteer and technical administrator with the Edmonton Triathlon, and mother of superstar Canadian triathlete, Paula Findlay.
Distances are tailored to the age of the children. In Christine’s case that means a 50-metre swim, 1.5-kilometre bike ride and 500-metre run. Very young competitors are allowed to get some help from their parents or from members of the Edmonton Triathlon Academy.
There’s a misconception that triathlon is something only elite athletes can do, but it’s a natural sport for kids, says Findlay.
“All three sports are things that kids do: most of them ride bikes and most of them can run, and a lot of them can swim, so its something most kids can participate in and it doesn’t require a lot of specialized equipment.”
The message appears to be getting through, making triathlon one of the fastest growing sports in Canada with both kids and adults.
According to Triathlon Canada, in the last seven years, the number of Kids of Steel races have grown from 62 to 125, and the number of participants has exploded from 2,022 to almost 17,000.
The number of adults who have participated in a triathlon has more than doubled from 27,396 to 68,082 in the same time period.
“The thing about triathlon is it’s for life,” says Findlay. “You can be a triathlete when you’re three, and we had a competitor last year in their 70s.”
Lately, the sport has been trying to attract more para-athletes, especially with paratriathlon making its debut at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Findlay says.
Para-athlete Reid Maxwell is about to compete in his second Edmonton Kids of Steel triathlon.
The five-year-old, who is the only para-athlete taking part in the triathlon, was born with only part of his right leg because of a congenital disorder. He uses his artificial walking leg to bike, and a carbon fibre “blade runner” leg to run. “For swimming, he finds it faster to go without a leg,” his mom, Fiona says. “As he gets older, he’s not allowed to wear legs (for swimming) anyway.”
Reid was inspired to try tri because he loves swimming, biking and running, and because his seven-year-old sister Renae, as well as both parents are active in the sport.
“Running is the hardest for him because it takes a lot of energy to get that leg around,” she explains. And although he does the triathlon at the same time as all participants his age, “because the transitions are so slow with leg swapping, he’s in a different category on his own.
“As long as Reid enjoys it, I’ll keep encouraging him. The moment he stops enjoying it we’ll find a different sport.”
Days away from June Saturday’s Kids of Steel, Christine Nyback is hoping to continue to improve her finish time. She is a very strong swimmer, and an outstanding runner, her mom, Doreen says, but biking has held her back, although that should change as she won’t be riding a bike with training wheels this year.
“Christine is non-competitive in life and school but man, you get her out in those kinds of situations (aquathons and triathlons) and she just goes for it.
“I’m pretty proud, but the most important thing is that she and Andrew are having fun.”
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