Timothy Lee isn’t walking to mount his bicycle – it’s more like a waddle, really, since the ankle pad and knee pad and elbow pad and oversized helmet make him move as though he’s stuffed in one of those bubble soccer suits.
He asks where the starting line is for his first ever Triathlon, where he’ll have to bike a quarter mile, run 200 yards, climb up a water slide and zip down the giant inflatable into a big splash of water.
From there he’ll dash a few feet to the finish line. Wet. Exhausted. Exhilarated. Oh, by the way, Timothy is four.
“I know, I know, he looks like he’s ready for a war of some kind with all that gear,” says his mother, Louise. “I guess I didn’t know what to expect.”
Few did when Parks and Recreation came up with the idea of having a Triathlon for kiddos age 3 to 10. Older kids bike and run a bit more and often bristle at the thought of a waterslide (“I’m 10,” one complains). But once they get on the slide they often head back just for the fun of it.
Last year was the first for what the Parks & Rec folks call “Tiny Tots Triathlon.” It featured about 100 kids running inside Elzie Odom Recreation Center after being rained out twice. Interest went viral, and the administrators decided to move the event to River Legacy this time around, which made sense seeing that 268 people pre-registered and even more just showed up in hopes of getting to bike, run, climb and splash.
Participants biked along a sidewalk, dropped their bikes, and then ran to the water slide. All participants who finished the race earned a medal – well, actually, even those who didn’t (a few younger ones balked at the giant water slide) earned a medal, anyway. “Nothing worse than a three year old crying because they didn’t get a medal,” says City of Arlington Athletic Director Wendy Parker. “Don’t want that.”
Tiny Tots Triathlon falls squarely in Parks’ leaders’ mission statement of partnering as much as they can with the community, especially during the summer months when parents are trying to find ways to keep their kids occupied. “Yeah, a great way to get them out of the house, off the sofa, off those games, do a little running, a little cycling,” Parker says. “There’s nothing that builds a family togetherness better than this. Siblings, aunts, uncles, they were all out there, too. Just a great opportunity to bring families together.”
Tiny Tots Triathlon is non-competitive but that doesn’t keep some of overly excited parents from clocking their child or staging a rooting section as the kid navigated their way through the events.
“We know it’s not really competitive, but we’re parents,” says Kevin Coop, whose eight-year-old son, Conner, zipped through the events as though he’d done this all before. “Our kids are doing a sport. You try not to be that parent, but it’s weird. Soon as they start biking or running, you’re that parent.”
City-sponsored sports leagues allow children as young as three to participate, mostly in baseball, girls’ softball and indoor and outdoor soccer. So some of the kids looked like sports veterans.
So did the parents. At least one parent was allowed to bike or run alongside his/her little participant, especially the younger ones, so they wouldn’t end up heading off course.
It was quite a sight. Many parents were seen sprinting across the grassy field, smartphone in hand to record every second.
“I don’t know who was into it more, the kids or the parents,” says Parker, who pauses before concluding, “maybe the parents.”
Columnist Kenneth Perkins has been a contributing writer for Arlington Today since it debuted. He is a freelance writer, editor and photographer.