Creating Champions: Kiwanis Kids’ Triathlon
WRITTEN BY SHEILA HELMBERGER | PHOTOGRAPHED BY SAVANNA SMITH
FINISHING A TRIATHLON IS IMPRESSIVE WHEN YOU’RE AN ADULT. But when you decide to take on the challenge as a kid, it’s even more so.
Each summer over three hundred youth in the Brainerd lakes area wind down their summer by participating in the Kiwanis Kids Triathlon. Open to youth ages five to 14 years, they compete in running, biking, and swimming on a day late in August. Registered participants receive a goody bag and t-shirt, but the day is about so much more.
The trek on foot and on bike includes a route that runs through Baxter and includes a dip in the water at Whipple Beach. Race organizer Mike Dillon says the triathlon began as a way to offer kids another activity they could do to keep them active and fit. Completion offers a sense of accomplishment and the hope is it will help them to form healthy habits that they might continue to practice life-long.
“This isn’t just a lap around the parking lot and pick up the finishers medal,” he says, “We intentionally have set the race distances up to challenge the participants.”
The kids seem fine with that. The completion rate is over 98 percent. The event is held in partnership with the Lakes Country Triathlon, held the following day, which means some families can make it a whole weekend of competing.
Racers are divided by age. Five- through nine-year-old participants are in one group and those ten to 14 years are in another. They leave the starting line in groups of 35 to give everyone plenty of room.
Posters and other items are held up as families and residents cheer on the athletes as they go by on the route leading to the finish. The organization receives support from the City of Baxter, the Parks Department and nearly 100 volunteers work on the day of the race. Some are positioned throughout the course, at registration, as lifeguards, manning the finish lines, handing out water and doing other tasks. Transition from one event to the next is done at the Whipple Beach staging area. The swim is done in shallow water, so participants can take a break and stand up to rest if they need to.
Organizers need to know if a child has special medical needs. Dillon says all kids are welcome to participate.
“We had a blind child complete the race,” he says, “That was very inspiring to watch.”
Addie Ryan is 11 years old and she participated in the Kiwanis Kids Triathlon last year with her friend, Ella Ostrowski. Of the three events, she says biking was her favorite part of the race.
“I think that part is easy,” she says. “It’s kind of fun.”