ORONO, Maine — Olympic gold medalist and Maine native Ian Crocker was 8 years old when he first swam in competition at the University of Maine pool.
“I was so nervous, I remember that,” the Olympic swimmer said of his first visit to UMaine for the YMCA Maine State Championship held in March 19 years ago. “It was my first time at a college campus, and it was kind of intimidating.”
He was back on Sunday to lead a group of more than 160 youngsters in the second annual Cub Tracks Triathlon where they swam laps, rode bicycles and ran their way to the finish line.
“I have a lot of memories at this pool,” he said just minutes before the first leg of the triathlon was held. “My first championship medal was at this pool.”
The triathlon is sponsored jointly by UMaine, Eastern Maine Medical Center and Kohl’s.
The Cub Tracks participants were broken into groups 7-9 years old and 10-13 years old with the younger group riding bikes for two miles and running half a mile and the older group biking for 2.5 miles and running for 1 mile. Before the youngsters entered the water, Crocker knelt down to talk to them. He said later that he asked them whether they were excited, whether they participated in the triathlon last year, whether they remembered their times and, “Do you think you’ll go faster?” he said.
The youngsters seemed to light up from the attention Crocker gave them.
One of the triathlon participants was 8-year-old Connor Robbins of Glenburn, who also participated last year.
“He had just learned to swim,” said his mom, Jen Robbins. “He really liked it, even though he had never done it before.”
Her son struggled with the laps in the pool during his first triathlon, but he finished, and “it was a good self-esteem booster,” his mom said, adding that the medal he earned by participating is a treasure.
“He was so proud of it,” she said.
When Connor headed to the pool for the first leg of the triathlon, his grandmother Janet Smith of Orono caught him just long enough to give him a kiss on the top of his head.
Before the Cub Tracks group headed to the pool, Crocker told the youngsters that exercise should be a lifelong love because it makes people feel better and studies have shown it helps students with their grades.
He ended by saying, “We’re all very proud of you already. Have a great race.”
Crocker stood at the finish line and congratulated each and every participant.