COLUMBIA — Speed was critical for participants and event organizers at the Hy-Vee IronKids Triathlon Saturday at Stephens Lake Park. As runners raced against the clock, event staff tried to beat the heat to keep each of the 219 athletes safe.
Bill Burke, event manager, planned to move through the day’s events quickly to avoid mid-day heat of over 100 degrees. The IronKids staff put on three races in two and a half hours, one hour faster than scheduled. The staff provided extra water and ice to keep athletes cool and hydrated. Extra medical staff was also on hand as a precautionary measure.
“You have to take safety seriously. Then, make sure the kids have fun,” Burke said.
Burke, a New Orleans native, has lots of experience dealing with extreme temperatures.
Roger Ries and his son Anthony, 8, of Evansville, Ind., were not as adapted to the heat. Trying to stay cool, Anthony spent time before his race playing in the fountains around the beach. His preparations paid off. He raced under the sun for just over 11 minutes and skipped across the finish line, winning the junior age group. His dad congratulated him with a shower of ice-cold water.
Although Ries was proud of his son’s success, he focuses on enjoyment of the sport and its growing popularity among youth.
“It’s everything a kid likes to do; run around, swim, and ride your bike,” said Ries.
The Hy-Vee IronKids Triathlon gives kids an opportunity to enjoy the expanding sport. Athletes ages 6 to 15 are divided into three age groups. Each age group runs courses of age-appropriate distances. Seniors, ages 12 to 15, swim 300 yards, bike 8 miles, and run 2 miles. The intermediate course, for ages 9 to 11, is a 150-yard swim, 4-mile bike ride and 1-mile run. Juniors, ages 6 to 8, swim 50 yards, bike 2 miles, and run 500 yards. The top 5 finishers in each age category qualify for the Hy-Vee IronKids U.S. Championship Sept. 1, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Athletes traveled from 13 different states to compete in Saturday’s competition. Many came with competitive triathlon teams. Z3, a team based in the Midwest, had five athletes participate. Z3 athletes follow individual training programs and train as a team twice every week.
“It’s addicting,” Griffin Bailey, 15, said.
Bailey and his teammate, Austin Hideman, 13, hope for a long future in the sport and aspire to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team.
Other members of Z3 enjoy traveling the Midwest and meeting new people.
“I get to meet from all over the U.S.,” Caroline Killeen, 14, said.
Hy-Vee IronKids is a joint venture between Hy-Vee and the United States Triathlon Association. The goal of the organization is to promote a healthy lifestyle and introduce the sport of triathlon to kids. Saturday’s triathlon was one of 15 qualifiers for the 2012 Hy-Vee IronKids National Championship.