Midtown: Sports

Triathlon draws crowd of little but fierce competitors

Brian Himmel, 12, made it look easy as he sprinted across the finish line after his 1.5 mile run.

Never mind that right before the run, he biked 5.5 miles and before that, he had stroked 200 meters in the pool on his way to becoming the first finisher at the 6th annual Kerr Family YMCA Kids Triathlon on Sunday.

“You don’t always expect it, but it is exciting,” said Brian, a rising seventh-grader from Oxford.

Brian said he has competed in at least 15 other triathlons including the 2010 IronKids national championship, where he took second place in his age group, finishing four seconds behind the winner.

The 150 youngsters who competed at the Y are part of a nationwide rise in the popularity of triathlons. A sporting goods trade group estimates that 2 million people take part in triathlons each year, a 50-percent increase since 2000. Triathlons cover different distances, but they always include intervals of swimming, biking and running – in that order.

Brice and Gage Gullison, 11 and 9, took a four-week training program offered by the Y to get ready to compete in this, their first triathlon.

“They loved the training,” said Catherine Gullison, their mother. “We’ve done soccer and taekwondo and swim team, and they’d want to stop after a few practices. There was more camaraderie with this.”

Katie Hirscher was there cheering on her sons, Nathan 11, and Ryan, 10. A former collegiate swimmer, Hirscher said there is a lot about triathlons for her boys to like.

“There are three different sports, and it’s a group effort,” she said. “They just love to compete.”

Hirscher said she added a little extra incentive for her younger son.

“I had to bribe Ryan,” Hirscher laughed. “He’s getting an ice cream.”

Friends and family

Helping a child compete in a triathlon is a group effort.

Parents crowded onto the pool deck inside the Y’s natatorium to support their children during the swimming competition.

In the parking lot, bicycles were lined up in the staging area with towels and helmets and shoes, ready for their soaking wet riders to come outside and race.

Each athlete made the first turn out of the parking lot to words of encouragement from volunteer Tony Morano, a YMCA board member.

“Give me some speed,” Morano told each cyclist. “It’s a hill.”

Morano has been volunteering at this event since it began. He said the kids love the camaraderie and the competition.

“There are no losers here,” Morano said, as he clapped for another child headed up the challenging terrain of the Wakefield neighborhood. “First or 10th place, it’s the same excitement.”

Families lined the bike and running courses holding signs of encouragement and shouting for their athletes.

Brooke Lynch, wellness director with YMCA of the Triangle, was stationed at the finish.

“Their faces are awesome,” Lynch said. “That look of accomplishment when they finish, it’s something.”

Brice Gullison came through the finish arch of his first triathlon and heard his name called over the public address system. He stopped in front of his proud parents and took a moment to catch his breath.

“I’d do another one,” Brice said.