Nobody jokes about participation awards or gives them back when it comes to a treasured tradition conducted by the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department.
The Bellingham Youth Triathlon, for athletes 13 and younger, is tough enough to provide a genuine sense of accomplishment for every finisher.
“It’s my favorite event. It’s the most fun,” says coordinator Lance Romo, who has run countless events in two decades with the department.
That sense of accomplishment is one reason an official top 10 order of finish in each of the three divisions is not posted except alphabetically (or, sometimes, from Z to A, just for fun).
“But the kids and their parents can figure it out,” says Romo with a grin, thinking of how some kids just take joy in competing while others compare times.
The 20th annual youth triathlon, scheduled Sunday, Aug. 5, will not be quite as tough as it has been. The first leg, swimming, will be half as long as it once was for each of the three divisions.
“Every boy or girl is given a chance to finish, but swimming is often the toughest event for some kids, and it was getting harder to keep on schedule,” Romo says.
The triathlon, in which either individuals or relay teams can compete, starts at Arne Hanna Aquatic Center at 9 a.m. for the 11-13 division, 10 a.m. for the 9-10 division and 11 a.m. for the 8-under division.
“This year, relays can be either two- or three-person teams,” Romo says.
It’s best not to delay too long to enter, since each of the three age groups is limited to 50 entrants including relay teams.
In the 11-13 division, swimming is 200 yards, cycling is three miles and running is one mile. For the 9-10s, swimming is 100 yards, cycling two miles and running half a mile. The 8-unders go 50 yards, one mile and one-quarter mile, respectively.
Transitions – from pool to bike and from bike to pavement – are conducted in front of the Arne Hanna building.
Volunteers and flaggers will be on hand to keep the triathlon as safe as possible.
At this age, who competes more often – boys or girls?
“I would say it’s about equal by gender,” Romo says of interest in the event.
“We’ve had some athletes, such as Emmy Gardner, start at 5 and finish at 13,” Romo says of kids who have competed in all or nearly all triathlons. “Youth triathlons are generally conducted with an adult event, but ours is all kids.”
Are first-timers welcomed at any age?
“Sure. Triathlons are just made for people to compete for the first time,” Romo said.
Strong swimmers generally have an advantage, since most youngsters have cycled or run more often.