Mix of fun, competition at Valpo Junior Tri
By Anthony D. Alonzo Post-Tribune correspondent June 15, 2013 11:36PM
Eight-year-old Olivia Molnar crosses the finish line at the Valparaiso Junior Triathlon on Saturday at Valparaiso High School. Molnar, who has cerebal palsy, completed the event on her own to an outpouring of support from family and volunteers.
Updated: July 17, 2013 7:20AM
VALPARAISO — Valparaiso Junior Triathlon coordinators had mapped out the swim, bike and run events, registered participants and put dozens of volunteers to work on Saturday morning. They awaited the one thing that would make their efforts worthwhile: that participants give the “tri a try.”
At Valparaiso High School and along the bike route the followed Vale Park Road, Valparaiso Swim Club coach Leslie McCall coordinated volunteers from the club who worked to ensure a safe and smooth event for the more than 100 youth participants from ages 6 to 14.
The club took the reins of the triathlon last year after several years under Valparaiso Parks direction.
“We’re still learning, and this is only our second year putting this event together ourselves,” event director McCall said. “So we know what we have to work on for next year.”
Swimming, cycling and running for competitive reasons or for recreational purposes, youth and teen triathletes showed sportsmanship and as they worked around kinks to manage themselves in the endurance event.
The mission for 6- to 10-year-olds was to swim 75 yards (three pool laps), cycle 3.1 miles and run 0.62 mile. Eleven- to 14-year-old participants tackled twice the distance in each event.
Once in the Valparaiso High School pool, just inches separated many competitors. In the adjacent parking lot, transition No. 1 — a timed process where swimmers toweled off, slipped into socks and shoes and walked their bikes over the timing sensor — tried some youths’ patience. Others struck a balance and accomplished the feat efficiently.
The next transition was completed in about half the time, on average. But heading into the run, participants split one of two ways based on age. Some confusion seemed to set in with volunteers who misdirected a few frustrated runners.
“I’ve done tons of triathlons and this is my first time doing this one,” said Lake Forest, Ill., resident Lauren Garriques, who’s won five national track championships. “This one needs to get better… it was like a maze.”
Lauren’s dad, Ron Garriques. said the race was “nice” and that the family considers the Indiana event a “home meet” because it doesn’t require shipping their bikes by air.
Siblings Lauren and Gunnar Garriques placed first and second in their respective age divisions. Lauren, 12, said competition in the cycling segment was neck-and-neck with Riley Johnston of Hobart and Chase Pickford of Chesterton close by.
After being misdirected out of transition 2, she launched into a sprint to make up for lost time. Lauren’s overall 36:50.4 time included a 10:52.8 in the run. That bested second-place finisher Johnston’s 12:15.8, but trailed Pickford’s 10:41.7. Garriques outpeddled Pickford, but he was 47 seconds faster in the water.
Lauren looks to build on her regular triathlon appearances and said she dreams of someday participating in the Olympics.
Riley Johnston’s 9-year-old brother Cody Johnston edged out Gunnar Garriques to take the No. 1 overall spot in the 6- to 10-year-old division. The difference was 17:50.0 to 17:50.7. Gunnar took a little longer in transitions.
Cameron Zimmerman took the bronze with his overall 18:49.5 mark. Autumn Turley was the fastest girl in the age group, clocking in at 20:55.0.
“When I finished they were saying I ran really fast,” said Cody Johnston, with his brother and Autumn and her brother Tyler Turley looking on. “With farther distances I’m faster than (Riley), but with sprints, he’s faster.”
With the top finish, Cody completed a three-peat of the annual event.
As the final runner made her way around the track the cool mist turned into a steady drizzle. Olivia Molnar brought the weather-weary crowd to their feet as she approached the finish line. The 8-year-old has cerebral palsy and completed each event on her own.
Running with an honor guard, then into the outstretched arms of her parents, Jacob and Karen Molnar of Valparaiso, triathlon volunteers said the girl’s endeavor was what the event is all about.
“This is not a push and shove (kind of race),” said Valparaiso Swim Club vice president Dawn Brown. “We want you to have fun. I want the little ones to have fun; they’re so excited.”