“Ari, run this way, not that way,” the volunteer said with a smile.
As she chased my 3-year-old son toward the baseball field to correct his route to victory lane of his first triathlon, I could see the excitement in his eyes. He had already completed the swim portion of the event at Longview Lake, which entailed running up and down steps in the swim pool in a fantastic five minutes. Then he boarded his Captain America bike with training wheels and completed the one lap (200 yards) through the parking lot in an amazing 10 minutes.
Yes, the only thing that stood between him and ... beating his younger-by-three-minutes twin brother Teddy was running the wrong way.
For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of playing catch in the backyard with my son, to relive the fondest of memories of playing catch with my own father. But a triathlon was never in the picture.
That was until seven years ago when I got the bug myself.
In 2007, I completed the Ironman Triathlon in Madison, Wis., in a grueling 16 hours and 30 minutes. For the uninitiated, it is a 141-mile swim, bike and run.
As fulfilling as that was, nothing compared to handing the torch to Teddy and Ari.
Having witnessed and even “participated” in my sons’ first swim, bike and run last July in Lee’s Summit, when they crossed the finish line, the pride, joy and happiness was indescribable.
From the moment I signed them up, their anticipation was my anticipation. While we didn’t train very hard for our 20-minute race, my boys took the event seriously. Teddy and Ari entered the “tri for tots” category, a politically correct way of saying that no true time would be kept.
But organizers did try to replicate adult triathlons. When Teddy and Ari arrived, they wrote numbers on their arms in permanent marker. We set up their bikes and running shoes at the appropriate stations.
Despite their best wishes, I did accompany them in all events to ensure safety. I jumped in the pool, and Teddy did swim a good 10 yards on his own, with me by his side. In biking and running, I merely tagged along for motivation. My wife followed suit.
But nothing was more heartwarming than seeing Ari get to the run part first and completely ignore me.
“Ari, wait for Teddy, so the two of you can run together,” I hollered ahead.
Ari turned around for a brief second to acknowledge me. Then shouted, “No!” threw his bike on the ground and headed for the hills.
When he finally got back on course, there was Teddy in hot pursuit. Spinning around the turn, he still sported the green bandanna that was tied around his head at the beginning. Ari’s had fallen off.
I ran back and forth, shouting.
“Go Ari!” ... “Go Teddy!” .... “Go Ari...” “Go Teddy.”
Just 15 more years until we can do the Ironman together.
Todd Natenberg lives in Leawood but will cross the state line for the right kind of race.