Kids’ Triathlons: Strong and growing

By Sarah Wyatt

Photo courtesy of Emmett’s Most Excellent Triathlon

An increasing number of local triathlons are including events for junior competitors.

Kids’ events are generally shorter than adult competitions and are adjusted for specific age classes. In addition to socializing and exercise, these events provide children with a feeling of accomplishment and motivation.

“I am a triathlon participant, trainer and event coordinator,” said Mary Meyer, who organizes the Sammamish Splash and the Cottage Lake Tri and Tri Again series. “I work with kids a lot. It’s really hard to change fitness habits with adults, but kids are easier to change. The kids can be good influences on their parents. Triathlons give them a break from the video games.”

And, she adds, triathlons are an alternative to the youth mainstay sports of soccer and baseball/softball.

While Meyer’s Cottage Lake events have categories for adults and children, the Sammamish Splash is exclusively a children’s event. Meyer believes there are advantages to each program.

“Sammamish Splash draws about 200 kids ranging from five to about 15 years old,” Meyer said. “Cottage Lake ranges from five to about 10 years old. With the latter, my intention is to get the entire family out there, especially since we have an elite category with some Iron Man athletes.

“We have so many more excuses to avoid getting fit when we’re adults,” Meyer added. “As adults we get attached to our issues; kids can let those go. The earlier kids know they can get fit, the better. Everyone gets finishers’ medals at Cottage Lake, so I have photos of entire families with medals.”

Meyer’s Cottage Lake summer series includes a “beat your time” challenge, providing children the incentive to improve over the summer from race to race.

“Sammamish Splash is good for youth who want to give it a try,” Meyer said. “Our event is all kids and they all get medals.”

The distances are designed to give children the experience of competing in multiple disciplines without taxing them with difficult courses.

Less Overwhelming

Ken Runyan, who organizes Emmett’s Most Excellent Triathlon, a multi-day event in Emmett, Idaho, said that junior competitors find their own competitions less overwhelming.

“Kids are a little bit intimidated if thrown in with adults,” Runyan said. “For our kids’ swim portion, they start in a swimming pool and get their own lanes. They stagger their starts in the pool. Adults competing the following day are in open water. The kids’ race is a non-competitive event, more about participation than winning. We do try to keep their times and give them their results.”

Runyan has noticed that parents enjoy competing in the events more if their children also have an event. Entire families may compete over the weekend. Generally, the youth events follow the adult competitions, enabling parents to compete and then watch their children do so. Some adult competitors stay and volunteer for the youth events.

“We actually encourage the parents to participate with the kids so it’s more of a family affair,” Runyan noted. “All the kids get a medal at the finish line. The next day we have the adult races and I see the kids out there wearing their medals. Not only are you introducing them to the sport of triathlon but it’s an introduction to individual sports.

“Some kids as young as 12 like the kids’ event so much, they start doing the adult sprint event the following year. One of the ideas behind starting the kids’ event is that some of our adult competitors have kids and they’re from out of town so it gives the whole family something to anticipate.”

Janice Zander organizes the Work It Out Triathlon in Maple Valley, Wash. which includes a children’s event consisting of a 75-yard swim, three-mile bike ride and half-mile run.

Competitors choose from two of the three events, making the competition less frightening for those with a weakness in one area.

“Kids can do just the bike and run or any two they choose,” Zander said. “It’s good for children who are afraid of the water. We have police officers along the route and the officers cheer on the kids. We hold the event in a quiet residential neighborhood, which tends to be more comfortable for children.”

As with many events, children have staggered start times and all receive a medal at the Work It Out Triathlon. Competitors also pose for a group photo and receive a gift bag.“I think kids’ triathlons are a good thing because they’re among their own peers,” Zander said. “It shows them they can get fit at any age!”

Some kids’ races benefit causes of interest to children’s athletics. The Ocean Shores Big Weekend benefits The Special Olympics, while the Kids’ Mini Pole Pedal Paddle supports Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation.
Runyan, of Emmett’s Most Excellent Triathlon, considers his mission greater than just offering children a good time. He hopes to promote fitness to children throughout the region.

“It’s more fun for the kids to just be out there participating with their peers,” Runyan said.

“They do not have to share space with the adults. They’re the center of attention! I was in college when President Kennedy started the big push for fitness and it got me interested.

“Maybe I can help kids get more interested as well.”

Sarah Wyatt is the calendar editor for Outdoors NW.

Pacific Northwest Kids’ Triathlons

July 10-11: Ocean Shores Big Weekend, Ocean Shores, Wash; Saturday – Olympic, Sprint and Kids triathlons, 10k & 5k; Sunday – Iron triathlon; 7 a.m.; (360) 893-7277,
July 11: Valley Girl Triathlon, Liberty Lake, Wash.; adult and kids’ races, (509) 326-6983,
July 24: Work It Out Triathlon, Maple Valley, Wash; sprint triathlon open to all fitness levels, adult and kids’ races; (425) 432-9311,
Aug. 6-7: Emmett’s Most Excellent Triathlon, Emmett, Idaho; adult and kids’ tri, USAT National Qualifier, Idaho State Championship, Idaho Senior Games category;
Aug. 9-13: USAT Junior Triathlon Camp, ages 8-12, swim, bike, and run at Magnuson Park with USAT certified coach Sara Graham. M-F 1:30-4 p.m. $105. Call Magnuson Community Center (206) 684-7026,
Aug. 21: Finish Strong Kids Triathlon, Monroe, Wash. for kids ages 6-15 years old in four age divisions.
Aug. 22: Sammamish Splash Kids Tri, Lake Sammamish State Park, Issaquah, Wash; ages 5 to 15;
Aug. 29: IronKids, Magnuson Park, Seattle, ages 6-15. >Events.
Sept. 11: Cottage Lake Tri and Tri Again Super Sprint Triathlon, Woodinville, WA;
sprint, advanced and kids; (206) 282-3959,