Tri-State residents training for triathlon
HUNTINGTON -- If there's one thing that kids will do, it's step up to a challenge, said Steve Mullins of South Point, Ohio.
Mullins, 43, has two sons, 13-year-old Osiris and 4-year-old Oakley, and a daughter, 6-year-old Quincey. All three will be participating this weekend in the St. Mary's Triathlon -- the youngest in the kids event on Saturday and Osiris in the main event's relay on Sunday.
While his main purpose in getting his kids involved in the triathlon at a young age has been to learn healthy habits to last a lifetime, it's fun to watch that spark when they face a challenge, he said.
"They tend to step it up when there are a whole bunch of kids involved," he said. "They see another kid involved, and they get competitive. They think, 'I can do that.'
"It's really enjoyable to get out and watch the kids. I encourage everybody to go out and see it. It's pretty inspiring. It's inspiring to see the adults, too. ... Winners finish in an hour, and others take two or three hours, but everybody hangs out and cheers on everybody coming in. It's exciting to see people get out and be active and push themselves to do things they haven't done before."
That is what the St. Mary's Triathlon is all about.
Race Director Jim Duke said he expects about 300 people to come out and participate in the weekend of events, which start at 8:30 a.m. Saturday with a kids duathlon, featuring different distances of biking and running for different age groups. It all continues at 8 a.m. Sunday with a traditional triathlon and other options.
The St. Mary's Triathlon includes a half-mile swim, 15-mile bike ride and a 5K run. The St. Mary's Duathlon is a 5K run, 15-mile bike ride and a 5K run. There is also a Triathlon Relay for those individuals who want to organize a team approach to the triathlon.
"The purpose is multiple. Hopefully it's to make exercise fun so you can incorporate it into your daily life," Duke said. With the kids, it's a great way to help them understand at a young age what is involved in healthy living.
"We're not expecting elite athletes out there. We expect your son, your neighbor, the kids next door," he said. "And we're proud of our city and want to show it off. To see Harris Riverfront Park at dawn with the sun coming up and the river, it's really beautiful," he said. "It's awesome to see 200 people take to the water."
It's the third time the event has taken place in downtown Huntington, having previously been at Beech Fork State Park in Lavalette.
The event was established 12 years ago by the organization HealthyHuntington.org -- now HealthyTriState.org. It was intended as a gateway to help local residents get into exercise by giving them a reason to establish fitness goals.
With the many different options for participation -- from doing just one leg of a relay to doing the entire triathlon -- it gives people more reasons to say yes to competition. Relay teams can even include some members who compete in the entire triathlon with others who do just one leg.
Mullins, who is treasurer and CFO for Necco, an organization that serves at risk youth and their families, has done the triathlon all but two years and said his oldest kids got into it when it was at Beech Fork, because there was a youth camp before the event, teaching the kids about running, biking and swimming, nutrition and wellness. That camp has not been offered in recent years but did a lot to help his kids build enthusiasm.
Now they do some running and biking as a family on their expansive property, and their oldest goes out on the road, he said. As soon as school lets out for summer, the kids are asking about the triathlon and eager to start getting ready, he said.
"They enjoy it and look forward to it every year," Mullins said. "I think it integrates a healthy lifestyle from a young age and helps them maintain it as they get older. I think it's more difficult for people to start a healthy lifestyle later in life."
He said his company is great about encouraging wellness activities, and that healthy habits and activities contribute to lowered health insurance premiums. Also, his community in South Point has a strong showing at the triathlon.
"There are quite a few folks over here that go over and do it," Mullins said. "My brother in-law, Jamie Marlowe, has done it every year and has been active in getting a lot of people do it. He promotes it."
Also a big factor in making the triathlon a success is the contributions of some 200 volunteers, Duke said.
Several area fire departments, the EMS and Coast Guard have boats on the river during the triathlon.
"The swim event is probably the most dangerous event," Duke said. If a runner or a biker feels unwell, he or she can move to the side of the road. A swimmer who gets a cramp out in the Ohio River is going to need some help, and there are several volunteers there to help, both in boats and kayaks, Duke said.
"We have kayakers following each swimmer," he said. "If they're having difficulty, we'll have a life vest to them, or get them in the boat immediately. We will have six or seven mechanized boats at minimum, 20-25 kayakers and divers. But we hope this is a very boring (in other words 'safe') event."
Meanwhile, at least 75 of civilian volunteers will be out on the course, including a strong showing near McDonald's restaurants, so motorists going through the drive-thru can get an extra heads-up during race times.
"It only takes one car in the wrong location not paying attention," he said.
"Also, 40 of Huntington's finest will be at every intersection and stoplight making sure runners and cyclists are safe on the course," he said.
The course has two loops of 7.5 miles each.
"We have a reputation for being a great little sprint triathlon. We get a lot of good amateur athletes who come to experience it," Duke said.
People come from Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as throughout West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. There will be a lot of Tri-Staters, he said.
"All the athletes are excited, and we're excited," Duke said. "We've had bike rides and 5Ks, and now you pull it all together and you have a triathlon."
For more information about the St. Mary's Triathlon, visit http://healthytristate.org/stmarys-triathlon/.
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