Sherry Boston Rennard gave valuable advice to the young athletes Saturday morning at the Newport-Mesa Family YMCA.
In a pre-race seminar she told the kids participating in the fifth annual junior triathlon to pace themselves, and to yell out "On your left" when passing during the bicycle portion of the event.
"The most important thing about triathlon you need to know is how to ring a cowbell," said Rennard, herself a triathlon competitor.
Rennard, the race director, spent plenty of time ringing that cowbell herself. She loved cheering on the 285 boys and girls, ages 4-12, that competed in the event. Members of her Newport Coast Triathlon Team took a Saturday morning off from training to act as volunteers for the junior triathlon.
One thing that Rennard didn't have was a stopwatch. No official times were kept for the young athletes.
"Everybody's a winner," Rennard said later, after the triathlon had ended. "It's just participating. We want them to sign up for it and commit to it, and do the work. Even if they get a little scared or even if they're a little tired in the pool, they push through and they finish. Every kid is a winner."
The YMCA junior triathlon had the kids first run, then bike, then swim, the reverse of the typical order. Kids ages 5-6 had a quarter-mile run along the Upper Newport Bay trail, then a one-mile bike ride and a 25-yard swim. Ages 7-9 ran a half-mile, biked two miles and finished with a 75-yard swim.
The older kids, ages 10 and up, ran for a mile and followed that up with a four-mile bike ride and a 175-yard swim.
Irvine resident Ian Partington had no problem cheering for all of the kids along the bike path, especially his 10-year-old daughter, Makena. She is already a club swimmer for the Newport-Mesa YMCA and really wanted to participate in the triathlon for the first time.
"She begged to come out today," Ian Partington said. "So we said, 'Why not?' It's an awesome thing. Last year we watched it, and that's kind of what led us to do it this year. It's like a real triathlon. I mean, it is a real triathlon. It's all about the kids, and you can see the passion that these volunteers have."
Each participant received a medal and a T-shirt. The YMCA also made sure the kids had fun. After they finished the triathlon, they could enjoy a snow cone or popcorn, and there were two bounce houses set up on site. After everyone finished, there also was a raffle.
Scott Crowell, a Costa Mesa resident, started the junior triathlon in 2010 with his wife, Jennifer. The family had young children, and didn't see anything similar offered in Orange County. Plus, Scott was a volunteer board member at the YMCA, so he decided to get the junior triathlon going.
It certainly has come a long way. In the first year, just 35 kids participated. But that quickly grew to 100 kids in 2011, and that number has continued to increase.
Scott Crowell said that a corporate sponsorship from Ameriprise Financial has helped build up the event, and other businesses also have contributed. Word of mouth also has helped.
His son James, who is now 11, is one of the few who has run in the junior triathlon all five years. James Crowell, who attends Mariners Christian School, said it was nice to race with some of his friends.
"It's important that the kids feel a sense of accomplishment for doing it," Scott Crowell said. "Any child that forgoes video games and TV to come out here and do this on a Saturday morning, it says something about both the kid and the parent. It's great for the community. I'd say probably 80% of these kids are non-YMCA members."
Rennard, who won her age group at the Ironman triathlon in Los Cabos, Mexico, in March to qualify to return to the Kona Ironman World Championships in October, would agree with that.
"We want them to set goals for themselves, and even when something's hard for them to do, to persevere," she said. "It's always worth it for them at the end, when they come out of that water and they get the medal. What we call it is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable."