As adults, and especially as parents, we rightfully believe we are our children’s teachers. We show them how to do everything from eating with a fork to riding a bicycle. But there are times children have much to teach us, if only we pay attention.
I was decidedly nervous about my boys participating at the AAA Triathlon in Clermont, Florida. Their race (age group 5-10) consisted of a 100 meter swim, two mile bike, and half mile run. Not only was this the longest either of my boys would have raced, it was the first time they would compete in the open water, travel with their triathlon team, and stay in a room with other boys and not with us parents. Seventeen children from the Tri4Kidz team made the five hour trek from Miami.
When all was said and done, I asked my boys what were their biggest lessons from racing this triathlon. Dreamer, age nine, replied “keep a steady pace” as he faded on the run, his weakest leg. Fearless, age seven, answered “just have fun.” Undoubtedly, these are two important lessons in growing up, but as an adult and as a parent, I took a whole lot more.
1. It’s okay to be uncomfortable, but not to be insecure.
Interestingly, several of the kids had a stomach ache the morning of the race. Dreamer’s came on suddenly as we were walking to the start line. When I asked him if he was nervous he answered: “yes.” When I asked if he was afraid he couldn’t do it he replied: “no.”
Towing the start line, the kids looked uneasy in their faces, but their stance and their bodies showed they knew, somewhere not so deep inside, they were ready for the challenge.
2. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes confident.
In triathlon, the equipment you need for all sports is kept together in one place called transition. This is where you go after the swim to get your bike gear, and where you drop off the bike to run. Parents aren’t allowed in the area, and the team spent a significant amount of time practicing how to set it up.
On race morning, I observed Fearless setting up his transition. He was deliberate and careful, two characteristics that by no means define him. He first placed his towel, then his shoes, and then his helmet over the shoes. He paused for a second and must have remembered the helmet should be turned upwards with the straps unbuckled. When he was set, he stood up and looked at it again, reviewing it in his head. He left transition and never looked back.
3. There IS a place for teamwork in an individual sport.
I sometimes wonder if my boys are missing out on a team sport, like soccer or baseball where players rely on each other to reach a goal. But watching these kids showed me they are part of a team. Dreamer mentioned that an older teammate, Dante, told him “I’ll try my best if you try your best.” When Dreamer was running, Dante was cheering. Dreamer had the best race he’s ever had and says he wanted to keep his deal with Dante. And when Dante came in second place, Dreamer felt as if he had something to do with it.
These kids trained their hearts out; the parents were committed to drive five hours for a race that lasts less than thirty minutes; when someone forgot goggles someone else had an extra pair; when one parent couldn’t travel, someone else drove the child. During the race, everyone was present cheering everyone else.
And for Gaby, the youngest of the group at age six, most of the team ran next to her encouraging her with every step. No one competed alone that day.
4. You cannot hide from your true self.
My boys were triathletes about to race their biggest challenge to date, but more than anything they were kids. And so were all the other competitors. You could see them splashing around in the water, climbing trees, catching frogs, playing tag in the playground. Sure, they were about to compete but they couldn’t escape being children.
5. Endorphins empower.
The kids raced with such determination we parents remained awed. The feeling of victory was contagious regardless of what place anyone got in the actual rankings. My boys stood taller than before, so much so, the next day they completely astonished me in riding up the largest mountain in Florida. I have a hard time climbing it with my triathlon bike, and these boys made it on their fixed gear, children’s bikes. They now speak of wanting to commit to triathlon, race more, train more consistently and yes, they are asking for better bikes to go along with their bigger dreams.
And the way I feel right now, with these lessons I learned, I might just make that happen.
So go out there everyone. Be uncomfortable but not insecure, remain true to who you are, practice enough to be confident, rely on your tribe and get those endorphins going. You have no idea just what mountain you’ll be able to climb.
Tri4Kidz is owned and coached by Liliana Montes with training sessions out of Key Biscayne, Florida. It is expanding to Coral Gables/South Miami so if you are interested in participating please email coach Lilly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.