Give it a tri: Youth race picks up pace

Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Herald
Silas Warnsman of Jasper, 6, stood for the playing of the national anthem before the start of the Dubois County Youth Triathlon on Saturday at Huntingburg City Park. This was the third year for the event, which also included a duathlon and Splash n Dash. For more photos from the event, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

HUNTINGBURG — Now running into the stadium, Kylie Evans and Anna Hochgesang!

The girls tromped onto the League Stadium grass to a grand introduction, as if they were a celebrity or a game-show contestant. Whether it was the star treatment or the satisfaction of approaching the finish line in Saturday’s Dubois County Youth Triathlon, most of the 72 participants in the third annual event perked up with smiles — and usually an extra jolt of speed — as they completed the final strides of the race.

The course was rife with obstacles. A broken bike chain for one racer. Fatigue. Mud … so much mud. And an air of unfamiliarity of competing in a sport that’s growing at the youth level, and that few adults rarely ever try, either.

It’s why seeing that finish line brings so much relief, a feeling that racer Mia Ahner distilled down to three words.

“Yay, I’m here!” the 12-year-old Jasper resident remembered thinking when she heard her name announced over the speakers.

Cole Schmitt of Jasper, 6, peeled his swim cap off during the Splash-n-Dash.  For more photos from the event, click here.

Ahner completed the full triathlon (swim, bike, run), which was one of three options for racers along with the duathlon (run, bike, run) and the Splash n Dash (50-meter swim and half-mile run) open to 6-year-olds who were the youngest participants. The oldest division with 13- and 14-year-olds featured the longest distances, with a 200-meter pool swim, 1-mile run and 4-mile ride.

The toughest thing about that gamut? Sometimes it’s got nothing to do with paddling, pedaling or jogging.

After transitioning from the bike ride to the run, one racer forgot to discard his head gear — prompting his parents to exclaim “Helmet! Helmet! Helmet!” to the boy, who hurriedly unlatched the helmet and tossed it to a volunteer before taking off on the run. And after exiting the pool to prepare for the run, one of the 6-year-old Splash-n-Dashers wrestled with his swim cap. Frustrated but smiling, he spent almost a minute trying to rip the red cap away from his head.

“Pull from the bottom,” race volunteer Todd Ofer offered, after which the boy solved the cap discard.

“The toughest part of the triathlon,” Ofer joked shortly later.

Humor helped quell some nerves.

Before releasing a group of more than a dozen runners, race volunteer Aaron Songer delivered an important briefing as the youngsters crowded around him. “Remember grizzly bear safety,” Songer told them, eliciting a few chuckles. (Solution: If you see a grizzly, jump on and ride him to the finish, Songer also told them.) No grizzlies at Huntingburg City Park, but another natural element proved to be a source of both hazard and amusement.

Ahner experienced a tumble to the grass as she rounded one of the slippery corners at League Stadium. But she popped right back up and kept motoring. “It was just a little muddy. We’re all good!” she said, giving the thumbs-up sign to parents Linda and Andy who watched nearby.

Korden Fetter of Dale, 6, biked along First Street during the triathlon. For more photos from the event, click here.

For others, muddy memories ranked at the top when they were posed the question: What was the best part of the race?

“Umm … running in the mud,” said 7-year-old Riley Hinson of Ferdinand, after she paused a few seconds to think.

“The mud down there when we splashed in it when we ran,” echoed Riley’s 10-year-old brother, Carter, who had the evidence spattered on the back of his white T-shirt.

Both kids had gone on runs before with their parents, Karl and Rachel, and they spent some training time on their bikes over the last couple weeks to brush up on that discipline of the duathlon. “I like running and I like biking, so I thought I might want to try doing this,” Carter explained.  

For the racers not comfortable with swimming, a duathlon (running and biking only) was added this time — and it helped boost participation by about 20 from last year’s numbers. For 14-year-old Caleb Lechner of Holland, though, the swim was directly in his wheelhouse. Lechner swims for a club team and plans to join the swim team when he starts at Southridge High School this year. He’s completed the youth triathlon all three years it’s been at Huntingburg, and “it’s just fun being able to race people who might be better at other things,” said Lechner, who finished second in his age group.

Swimming is Lechner’s specialty, so he rolled with the gear he had on hand for the cycling section. “It’s not a racing bike. It’s a mountain bike. But it gets the job done,” he said.

A look at the bike rack revealed the range of age and experience among the competitors. Everything from tiny Barbie bikes to sleek bicycles tailored for competitive races. Mia Ahner has been logging plenty of road time since she wants to mirror her father. “They’re kind of buddy-buddies,” Linda said.

All it took was Andy casually asking if Mia wanted to try a triathlon for her to jump on board.

“And ever since, I’ve really fallen in love with tris,” said Mia, who’s eyeing a future race for her and Andy to compete in together.

“My goal for this season is to do a sprint triathlon. There’s a sprint triathlon right out of Evansville that I’m not signed up for yet, but I’m really going to train hard for my sprint triathlon. It’s my goal.”

Everyone’s got eyes on what’s ahead.

Kylie Evans, 12, and her sister Kelly, 10, right, kissed their brother, Kaleb, 1, as their mother took their photo after Saturday’s event. For more photos from the event, click here.

“Hey, you chase all those boys down!” Dylan Hammons said while taking a cellphone video of daughter Nya, 9, wheeling into the park. Nya has beaten the boys before; she’s competed in a handful of triathlons as part of Green River Tri, an Owensboro-based club which brought about a half-dozen kids to Saturday’s race.  

“We love coming up here,” Dylan Hammons said. “We’ve been all around (competing), and this is the best-run and the cleanest, the kids always feel safe. We’ll be back.”

Reagan Fortwendel projected satisfaction, too, despite a mishap on her bike ride when the chain got stuck between two gears and locked up the pedals. After an assist from volunteers, the 10-year-old from Jasper was repaired and on her way again, finishing her first youth tri as part of a jam-packed day. After the race, she jetted away for a softball tournament in Loogootee.

“I play two today. One at 1 (o’clock) and one at 4,” said Reagan, who figured that ice cream might be in her future later that night as a prize for a hectic day.

“Yeah,” she added with a smile, “I am already tired.”

Weary but satisfied, with a medal to prove it.

“I think it’s impressive that kids are doing something healthy and competitive enough that they’ve got something in common with the other kids,” Linda Ahner said. “Once they get on the swimming and the biking and the running, they become competitive, they understand good sportsmanship and everything, so I think it’s good to help them socially as they grow older; I really do. I think it’s good.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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