story and photos by Brittany Ransom
The rain moved out just in time for 80 local junior athletes to take part in the eighth annual Sparks Health System TRI for the Kids Triathlon on Saturday morning (Aug. 30). Hosted at the Marvin Altman Center in Fort Smith, the event included a full morning of competition and fun while helping raise funds for a worthy cause.
Participants as young as age two took part in the triathlon, with the oldest competitors being 14 years old. Athletes were divided into age categories, each with a different color shirt to identify their grouping.
The morning kicked off with the youngest group, who made up the first wave in the swimming event. From there, athletes made their way to the transition area to change out of their swimwear and into their clothes for biking and running. They then hopped on their bikes and trikes and headed up Lexington Avenue for the cycling portion of the triathlon before running the last leg of the course to the finish line.
Requirements varied for each age category, with older divisions completing more laps in the pool and longer stretches on the bike and running trails. Some parents of the six and under competitors ran alongside their children as they biked and ran. Many also cheered from the finish line encouraging their children as they made their way down the home stretch.
First, second and third places were awarded to each division, which was broken down by age and gender. Each participant received an event t-shirt and medal.
Organizer Bob Harper believes the event is important to helping children establish healthy exercise regiments and build self-esteem.
"My goal is to introduce kids to triathlons and prove to them that, with a little hard work, they can accomplish anything," said Harper.
For many of the participants, the event has become a family tradition with siblings each competing in their age category year after year.
"I love watching these kids race," said Harper. "I have seen them grow throughout the years and now some of them are old enough to participate in our other triathlon that we host indoors. The Sparks indoor triathlon for adults has been going strong since 2002.”
Registration for the event was $25, with proceeds benefitting the Gregory Kistler Treatment Center in Fort Smith. The Kistler Center 's mission is "to provide support and learning opportunities in the community for children and adults with developmental disabilities and to provide all individuals an opportunity for a full and productive life through therapy services."