PEMBROKE — They swam. They biked. They ran.
On Saturday, 106 young athletes from Robeson County and other other communities across the state, including Fayetteville, Clayton and Cary, came to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke campus to compete in the Tri-Warriors Triathlon Club’s third annual youth triathlon. It is the only youth triathlon held in the region, according to the Tri-Warriors, and participants in the competition ranged in ages from 6 to 15.
“This (106 participants) is a record for us,” said Mike DeCinti, the event’s race director. “Last year we had 115 who registered, but a hurricane brought bad weather and only 87 kids participated.”
According to the Tri-Warriors website, the group was established in Robeson County in 2009.
“All of the members have personal goals to succeed at the sport of triathlon and do their very best in training both their body and minds,” the page reads. “But as a group our goal is to better our community.”
All of the athletes on Saturday competed in three events — swimming, biking and running. Those between the ages of 6 and 10 had to swim 50 yards, bike three miles and run one mile. Those 11 to 15 years of age swam 100 yards, biked six miles, and ran two miles.
“I like the swim and run,” said 9-year-old Meredith Roberson of Clayton. “It’s fun but hard.”
DeCinti, who is an avid triathlete himself, said that while the Tri-Warriors want to share their sport with young people, members also want to promote a healthy lifestyle.
“We need to get Robeson County kids in shape,” he said. “Just look at the big problem we have in the county with obesity.”
DeCinti said that in addition to hoping that young people participating in triathlons develop a love for the sport — one he said they won’t find in the schools — the Tri-Warriors want young people to know that their self-esteem shouldn’t depend on them being a star on highly visible school sport teams.
“This (triathlon) takes dedication,” he said. “”You have to respect it. It’s a difficult sport.”
Nine-year-old Colin Baumgartner, of Fayetteville, knows all about how much it takes to become a good triathlon athlete.
“I’ve been working all summer, biking, swimming and running,” he said shortly after completing Saturday’s competition. “I placed third last year but I think I did better this year. I don’t know yet what my time was, but my goal was to run (the mile) under my last year’s time of eight minutes.”
DeCinti said that the event, which included almost as many volunteers as participants, is becoming more popular each year.
“What kid doesn’t like to swim, bike and run,” he said.
Those participating in Saturday’s triathlon came in all shapes and sizes, possessing a broad range of athletic abilities. But more evident than the competitive nature of the event was the fun that everyone had.
“I liked the swim the best,” said 9-year-old Kirby Roberson of Clayton. Kirby, who has autism, enthusiastically participated in all of the three events with the help of a race volunteer who accompanied him throughout the competition. One of triplets, Kirby’s two sisters, Meredith and Noelle, also participated in Saturday’s triathlon.
“They do a really great job of putting on this event,” said Steve Baumgartner, who brought his child from Fayetteville. “It’s very safe and well-organized. This is our second time here.”
Debbie Roberson, a family nurse practitioner from Clayton who participates in several adult triathlons each year, said that triathlons are a fun way for children to stay healthy.
“Triathlons are all of the cool things kids do anyway. They swim, they bike, they run,” she said. “The nice thing about triathlons for kids is that they don’t have to train a lot like adults do. These events are not only fun, but they promote a healthy lifestyle, show young people they can go the distance, and help make kids feel good about themselves.”
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.