ORONO, Maine — For 10-year-old Braeden Ward, Sunday afternoon’s third annual Cub Tracks Youth Triathlon at the University of Maine’s track complex felt eerily like the first time.
Sure, he’d competed in the first two events organized by Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Wellness Services, but that was in the ages 7-9 division. This was the big time: the 10-13 division.
“It’s a half-mile longer in the running and the biking, and the swimming is twice as much,” said the youngest child of Karl and Dr. Kathy Ward.
True, the first of the three events was now a 100-meter swim instead of 50, the bike ride had gone from 2 to 2.5 miles, and the final event was now a 1-mile run rather than a half-miler, but that failed to keep the Bangor youth from completing the triathlon in the time he set as a goal.
“It was more tiring, but I’ve grown and that’s grown with me,” Ward said. “This year I practiced and practiced and I had a goal to be around 27 or 28 minutes.”
His final triathlon time was 27 minutes, 25 seconds for all three events.
Ward wasn’t the only one among the 159 young triathletes who was accomplishing goals and leaving the track with a smile so wide it threatened to outgrow his face.
“This is a wonderful event,” said Karl Ward. “I was over at the pool and there were a bunch of little kids who you could tell were nervous, biting their fingernails and holding towels really close, but the crowd was really supportive.
“One little guy was really struggling. He only had to go down and back, but when he got to the other side, he climbed out of the pool and was shaking his head. Everyone started cheering for him and he got back in. When he got halfway down, he stopped and held onto the rope, but the crowd kept cheering and he finished even though he as the only one left in the pool. That gives you chills. That’s what it’s all about.”
Well, that and promoting children’s health.
“The main goal is increasing youth awareness of physical activity, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle behavior,” said event director and creator Lisa Trimper, EMMC health educator and the wife of UMaine baseball coach Steve Trimper. “And I wanted to offer these kids something nobody has offered them before. A lot of them play soccer or swim, many do Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, but this is something completely different and it’s a one-day thing that doesn’t interfere with their other activities.”
This is the third straight year the triathlon has attracted 154 or more youths.
“I never expected it to get this big. I was just hoping to eventually break a hundred. It’s so exciting and we couldn’t do this without the University of Maine. They donate their facilities and we have over 120 student-athlete volunteers helping out.”
Ashley Higgins, a sophomore diver on UMaine’s swimming and diving team, was one of those volunteers.
“I did it last year too. It’s kind of cool seeing these young kids doing this,” said the nutrition major and Bangor High School graduate. “I don’t think I could’ve ever done it at that age.”
Trimper says there are secondary benefits to the event, such as the kids inspiring their parents to become more physically active.
“It’s always fun to go in Monday morning and read all the e-mails we get from people whose kids have done this,” Trimper said. “This has been so good we’re hoping to springboard off of this with something else like maybe a jump rope marathon or something.”
The overall triathlon age group winners were Charles Doughty (age 13) of Brewer in the ages 10-13 boys division, Alexus Brown (11) of Orono in girls 10-13, and 9-year-old Scarborough residents Brimwin Peabody and Ryanne Cox in boys and girls 7-9 divisions, respectively.