PEMBROKE — The 135 boys and girls who participated in the eighth annual Tri-Warriors Youth Triathlon Saturday were all winners.
At 7:30 a.m., youths between the ages of 6 and 15 began jumping into the English Jones Athletic Center pool on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The younger competitors swam 50 meters, biked two miles and ran one mile while the older competitors did twice the distance.
Cheers went up as the first group emerged from the pool to jump on their bikes. The participants came from Pembroke and across eastern North Carolina to compete on a perfect day for fitness awareness.
Some of the competitors were veterans of the grueling sport and many were in their first event. For the sponsoring Tri-Warriors Triathlon Club of Pembroke, the day was about youth and health.
Grady Hunt, a founding member of the sponsoring Tri-Warriors Triathlon Club, summed up the purpose of the event.
“The club is 10 years old, and this is our eighth event,” Hunt said. “We wanted to get youth out and involved. From the looks of it, this group is very fit.”
Local pediatrician Dr. Joey Bell, who is one of the contributing sponsors, agreed with Hunt that encouraging children’s health is important.
“I’m here this morning to support some friends, family members, patients and the mission of the event,” Bell said. “This is about children’s health, and that’s why we are sponsors.”
The triathlon attracted many sponsors and volunteers. UNCP’s softball, wrestling and golf teams manned stations along the course. Other volunteers assisted with the changeover from swimming to bicycling.
“It’s for a good cause,” said Alyssa Price, a senior UNCP softball player from Sarasota, Fla. “The kids are so excited, it makes volunteering fun — even this early on a Saturday.”
Volunteer Channing Jones, whose grandfather is the namesake of UNCP’s Athletic Center, had two children entered.
“They are in the younger age group,” Jones said. “They swim every week at the university and run with their mom.”
Some of the competitors were entered in their first triathlon, and some, like 10-year-old Nicholas DeSilva, are already veteran competitors.
“We came from Southern Pines,” said his mother, Beth. “Nicholas and his friend are in a club, and they recently competed in the nationals. They are good kids, and they work really hard.”
Pembroke resident Noah Oxendine, 10, was in his first triathlon, and his parents, Tina and Bobby were excited.
“This is his first time, so he’s winging it,” Tina said. “He plays sports, and we want him to be active.”
Parents, some carrying cameras with long lens, scurried from station to station in the well-organized event. One of them was Pépé Sanchez, who looked on as his daughter, Ivana, 6, put on shoes and a T-shirt for the bike ride.
“Yes, those are training wheels,” Sanchez said. “She’s excited and has been waiting for this day.”
Christopher Simmons,14, was first across the finish line, where the Lumbee Ambassadors rang cowbells and cheered all the finishers. From Willow Springs, Simmons was breathing hard.
“I’m OK,” Simmons said. “Boxing is my sport. I’m ranked nationally in five weight classes.”
Sadler Miller, 15, was one day from starting high school in Clayton. She finished among the top females.
“I swim year around,” Miller said. “This is my fourth triathlon. I’m a member of the Johnston County Junior Triathlon Club.”
Janice Babeu, from Fayetteville, brought her 9-year-old son, Sackis, who “trains off and on,” she said.
“I also came to hand out these fliers for our triathlon at Camp Rockfish in Parkton,” Babeu said. “See you on Sept. 22.”
Triathlon organizer Mike DeCinti was in the middle of it all, talking on his cell phone and conferring with event staff.
“It’s going so well, we’re wondering why we got here at 5 a.m. this morning,” DeCinti said. “This is perfect weather for running. It’s a great day.”
Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]