Some 850 little gators will be out swimming, running and biking in Elmira this weekend.
The TriGator is an annual fun triathlon held at the Woolwich Memorial Centre for kids between the ages of 3 and 14. Much like a real triathlon, it encompasses a day of running, swimming and biking at various distances dependant on age.
“It is a pretty impressive layout. We really have done a good job of putting it all together – we make it look pretty cool. The thing we always hear is that it is a pretty well-oiled machine, and its always been that way. Things get better and better every year. Every year, the easier it has been to get people involved,” said race director Paul Helsby, who founded the event along with some friends.
“It’s a lot of work, but it has been very fulfilling. I have a great committee; we started it with just six friends who were tri-athletes,” said Helsby. “We thought ‘there wasn’t one like this in the area’ – we wanted it to be different. We are just a grassroots group of volunteers.”
Those volunteers run the not-for-profit organization TriGator For Kids, a foundation with a mandate to support youth in the attempt to keep them active, especially those who don’t have the means to participate in organized sports.
Over the past seven years, the organization has raised $400,000 for the community. All proceeds from the day’s registration going towards Canadian Tire Jumpstart, their charity partner, to help give kids in the area a chance to participate in organized sports and recreation.
Now established, the event sold out within just two hours of registration opening online.
“It goes incredibly quickly. It certainly could be much bigger than this,” he said of options to expand the event. “We have taken great pride in the day – we are all tri-athletes that run it, and we try to really make it look like a very real, professional, world-class event. We finish on the track of the school (EDSS), so we have a big finish-line banner and a huge cheering section as they come in. It is just fabulous to see.
“And we are a little different in that we make this a non-competitive race – it is all about finishing, so every child gets a medal and a freezie, which is probably the most biggest reason that kids participate,” he said with a laugh.
Each year they offer direct subsidies for free access to the race for upwards of a dozen kids through Woolwich Community Services in Elmira for those who would like to participate, but don’t have the means to do so.
It was important for the group to provide kids with the opportunity to participate and feel accomplished with the success of finishing, noted Helsby.
“Triathlon, although it is gaining popularity, is not a well-known sport at a young age. We have a lot of kids who have started it and continued on through high school because they find it is a great sport to do. It is reasonably inexpensive – you don’t need the equipment of hockey, you don’t need all of that organization,” said Helsby. “It basically just ties into what kids do every day and it shows them that it is fun. It is amazing to watch these kids. To do all three together they get a huge sense of accomplishment.”
Beyond the physical accomplishment of completing the race, there’s also the associated fundraising components. Although not mandatory, Helsby says a lot of kids create pledge pages with their goals and are encouraged to raise money through the foundation to go towards Jump Start or directly into the community as part of the Kids Helping Kids campaign.
“There are a lot of kids that really take that to heart and do a great job of that, they are out canvassing the street, they are out talking about it in the community,” said Helsby.
The top fundraisers get prizes.
Organizers have a backup plan in the case of lightning, so kids can have the opportunity to participate rain or shine.
“Woolwich Memorial Centre is a great venue. We rent the whole facility, so we often have a contingency plan to move things into the arena to keep everyone dry. If there is lightning in the area, we can certainly run a swim or run, the thing we would drop or shorten would be the bike ride,” he explained.
Festivities kick off with registration Friday night and the first wave of 3-5 year-olds start at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday.