Little legs learn to love kid-sized triathlons

Dave and Aven McFather congratulated Reese McFather (left) after the Kids Triathlon in Gladstone on Saturday.
Dave and Aven McFather congratulated Reese McFather (left) after the Kids Triathlon in Gladstone on Saturday. The Kansas City Star

Kids soccer? So last decade.

If blocked-off streets Saturday near the Gladstone Community Center were any indication, the weekend sport to prod children of 2014 into is the triathlon.

Swim a little. Bike a little. Run to the finish line.

In 20 minutes, more or less.

About 170 children, ages 6 to 14, huffed through the seventh annual Kids Triathlon, which kicked off what will be a busy summer of triathlon events for Murphy Corum.

“It wasn’t my favorite thing when I first started” several years ago, said Murphy, 12. “Then I began to love it.”

Meet his mother, Jennifer Corum — the ultimate Triathlon Mom. She helps coach a half-dozen kids on Murphy’s team, which is affiliated with Z3 Triathlon. The organization serves young triathletes through satellite groups in eight states.

They have their own uniforms.

“It’s about more than being a triathlete,” said Jennifer Corum, who is director of curriculum for the Park Hill School District. “Z3 teaches the seven pillars of character.”

Integrity, respect, humility, accountability, sportsmanship, safety and goal setting.

The local Z3 group has been practicing twice a week, sometimes cycling around the airport downtown, and soon will travel to Des Moines, Iowa, for Z3 Camp.

The secret to success in kids triathlon? “Pacing,” said Murphy. Swim too hard at the start, and a child will be gassed while lacing up shoes before hopping on the bike.

The swimming portion for the 12-14 age group covered 200 yards. Then followed three miles on bikes and a quarter-mile run. The best posted times under 19 minutes.

They’re not racing head to head, but hustling in all directions at different times. Individual times are recorded on electronic ankle bracelets monitored by computers.

The swiftest in the 6-8 age group clocked about 11 minutes for swimming 50 yards, biking a mile and a half and running a quarter mile.

“The hardest part was riding uphill,” said Abigail Hallman, 8, participating with her brother in their first triathlon.

Their dad, Anthony Hallman of North Kansas City, wore his “Team Hallman” shirt. He said the main objective was to “force — no, make that encourage” his children into a physical fitness routine at an early age.

People at the Gladstone Community Center spent six months planning the event, which was sponsored by North Kansas City Hospital and several area businesses.

Price Chopper catered 550 sandwiches. A DJ played songs, Google Fiber manned a booth, 70 volunteers helped direct the race, 10 police officers patrolled and an ambulance was parked at the ready.

A walkie-talkie hung from the belt of community center administrator Justin Merkey, who said of kids triathlon: “Oh, it’s a major thing. It’s huge.

“We have families here from as far away as Columbia and Springfield, and they’re regulars.”

An online triathlon calendar, TriFind.com, lists 12 events for kids this year in Kansas and 10 in Missouri.

Merkey said many adults who run triathlons will get their children interested.

Other young people get hooked because, unlike kids soccer, triathlon is less about team than about individual achievement, he said: “It’s about pushing yourself.”

And like kids soccer, all of Saturday’s triathletes received a medal, of course.

To reach Rick Montgomery, call 816-234-4410 or send email to rmontgomery@kcstar.com.