Organizations: Achieve Kids Tri Camp
Bryce Lawson’s legs ache, but he keeps swimming, stroke after stroke, four laps around the 10-lane pool.
“It’s a good kind of tired I feel right now,” he says, after toweling off young limbs that are growing increasingly toned. “One of the lessons my coaches are teaching us is to never give up.”
Pedal to the Medal: Lawson, an 11-year-old middle schooler from Cascade Heights, is one of 18 participants in the Achieve Kids Tri Camp – Atlanta, a nonprofit program that trains sixth- and seventh-graders in the rigors of swimming, biking, and running – a regimen that culminates in an officially sanctioned, timed short-course triathlon competition with Olympic-style medals.
“Along the way, they learn other lessons – basic fitness and nutrition, motivation, discipline and the satisfaction that comes from setting goals and meeting them,” says the program’s director, Matt Wren, 29, a Georgia Tech research scientist and weekend athlete who always dreamed of coaching.
Equipped for Success: Wren, observing the booming popularity of triathlon events, launched the program this summer for children from at-risk environments. “Bikes, helmets and running shoes cost a lot of money, so they’re out of reach for a lot of people in this economy,” he says, “and some of our kids didn’t know how to swim when they arrived. I wanted to expose them to this sport and these life skills without charging them a cent.”
With support from donors and a D.C.-based group called Achieve Kids Tri, Wren’s program became an elective athletic component of Odyssey Atlanta, an academic camp for under-served students held at The Westminster Schools. Wren assembled a first-rate team of four coaches to drill the students for two hours every weekday for six weeks on the well-appointed grounds and equipment in Buckhead.
Under any circumstances, the variety of triathlon holds special appeal for fidgety youngsters, says head coach Mari Fridenmaker. “Every day is different, so it’s not monotonous,” she says, explaining that for the competition, students must swim 100 yards, then ride a bike for five kilometers and conclude with a 2K dash to the finish line.
Running coach Lowell Lea, a Morehouse track star who now works as a chef, also provides nutritional counseling, which students take home to their dinner tables, and guest coaches, such as Olympic runner Jeff Galloway, offer pep talks and useful tips.
Staying on the Right Track: Lawson, for one, intends to stick with the exercises long after the camp ends. “The coaches have taught us we need to be our own cheerleader,” he says.