Organize a Neighborhood Triathlon

An informal race inspires reluctant exercisers to get off the couch and into the spirit of friendly competition.
The Kids? Triathlon illustration

Trina Dalziel

Like most young people, my daughters, Samantha, age 14, and Annie, 12, are passionate consumers of all things on a screen. They love watching movies and TV shows. They love playing games on their iPods and texting. When the hot days of summer roll in, they often prefer to stay indoors, on the couch, with a screen -- which drives me crazy. Of course, a little screen time is all right; it's almost inevitable these days. But I also want my kids to be active, and that can be a challenge when it's 90 degrees outside.

So I was grateful when a couple of summers ago, my friend Mary Jane decided to organize a neighborhood triathlon for the end of August. She'd always wanted to do a triathlon herself, and she also wanted to give the kids, including her own three, a healthy goal. The element of competition, she figured, would motivate them to get moving. My husband, Jeff, and I were eager to get our couch potatoes involved. The girls weren't so eager, partly because they didn't know what to expect. In explaining the event to them, I tried to make it sound like fun (which I knew it would be!).

The three-part race would start at our friend Martha?s pool, where four kids at a time would swim eight laps for a total of 320 feet. Next, they'd ride a three-mile loop on quiet nearby roads. Parents would be stationed along the way, directing the kids and watching for any mishaps. (Mary Jane had ruled that all participating athletes had to enlist a parent to help supervise.) The ride would finish at Diana's house, where the kids would drop their bikes and run to Mary Jane's, a half-mile away. There kids and parents would gather for a potluck dinner.

Maybe it was the potluck that tipped the balance: the girls agreed to compete in the triathlon. But they did so reluctantly, and only in part of it. Samantha ended up swimming and running for her team, while her friend Tom biked. Annie swam, and her friends Eli and Ryan biked and ran. Well, OK, I thought. Something was better than nothing.

The next year, the neighborhood kids got more serious. In the weeks before the triathlon, some got together to practice swimming or riding. My girls preferred to go it alone. Annie had a special goal: to master the steep hill in the middle of the bike loop.

Truth was, hills terrified her. Riding down our slightly sloped street, she'd often wind up on my neighbor's lawn in a heap. Somehow, she just couldn't handle her bike and the brakes at once.

One thing about Annie though, she likes to win. In fact, she revels in winning. It bothered her to be stymied by a slope. With the triathlon looming, she told us one evening that she was off to ride the bike-loop hill. "Will you go with me?" she asked.

That night, we conquered the hill. "Wow, I can't believe I was so afraid of that," she said after we rode it a few more times. Then she declared that she'd compete in the whole triathlon this time. Not to be outdone, Samantha decided to do the same.

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