Triathlon training program aims to level playing field for young Chicagoans

Breakthrough Urban Ministries and Live Grit Soars focus on bringing the sport of triathlon to West Side kids who can’t access it. The triathletes will be racing this Saturday in the Kids Tri Chicago.

SHARE Triathlon training program aims to level playing field for young Chicagoans
merlin_114996346.jpg

A young rider navigates a bicycle around cones on a basketball court at Humboldt Park in training for the Chicago triathlon for kids on Aug. 26.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Trevion Perry hopped off his bike with the biggest smile on his face. Two hours earlier, he didn’t think he’d be that happy.

“I guess I surprised myself,” Trevion said. “I didn’t think I would catch on that fast.”

It was his first day attending a triathlon training session that teaches kids swimming, cycling and running. While he’s a fast runner, he was nervous about the bike portion. The 12-year-old hadn’t ridden a bicycle since he was 4 and needed training wheels.

His mom, Trashun Ford, beamed with pride and had tears in her eyes.

“My cheeks hurt from smiling so much,” Ford said. “He picked that up very fast. I’m just so proud of him. This was a rite of passage moment.”

Trevion Perry, center, jogs with a group of West Side children and young teens along a trail at Humboldt Park, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023 to train for the Chicago Kids Triathlon as part of a free program from Breakthrough Urban Ministries and Live Grit Soars.

Trevion Perry (center) jogs with a group of West Side children and young teens along a trail at Humboldt Park earlier this month to train for the Chicago kids triathlon as part of a free program from Breakthrough Urban Ministries and Live Grit Soars.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Trevion was one of 25 kids at Humboldt Park on a recent Tuesday training to race in the annual Life Time Kids Triathlon on Saturday. The free program comes from Breakthrough Urban Ministries, an East Garfield Park community organization, and Live Grit Soars, a West Side nonprofit that teaches the sport of triathlon to young people.

Since it started in 2017, 175 kids have participated in a Live Grit Soars training program and 85 have raced in the annual kids triathlon. More than 1,000 youth participate in the Kids Tri Chicago, one of the largest youth triathlons in the nation, every year.

This week’s heatwave won’t be impacting the athletes heading into the race. Extreme temperatures aren’t forecasted during their final practices and Saturday’s temperature is expected to be a high of 75 degrees.

“We’re empowering youth by using the sport of triathlon and trying to have more equitable access to the things within the sport,” said Gillian Fealy, the founder of Live Grit Soars.

Many of the kids who come through her program haven’t learned how to do the three triathlon sports — some don’t own bikes or can’t access swimming lessons. Live Grit Soars provides the gear, including bikes, and covers the $90 registration cost for the triathlon.

“When you have an athlete start the summer not knowing how to ride a bike and then just see them take off is one of the coolest things,” Fealy said. “And it’s more than just a physical thing; they’re also developing that belief in themselves, that confidence that they can do this.”

‘Transformative power of sports’

In 2011, Fealy attempted her first triathlon in Rockford. She only lasted about two minutes on the swim thanks to a panic attack that felt more like a heart attack. But a month later, she completed her second race and hasn’t looked back.

“It’s changed my life. It’s not about winning or anything. At that time, what I needed was to know that I can do whatever it is I want to achieve,” Fealy said.

Fealy, who is a juvenile justice attorney, opened a triathlon gear store in 2014. Despite closing it in 2019, Fealy said the triathlon community that grew from the shop is still strong, and it’s where Live Grit Soars was born.

“I believe in the transformative power of sports in general, but especially endurance sports because truly anyone can do it,” Fealy said. “I had watched so many adults’ lives be impacted by this, and I thought: How do we introduce more youth to this?”

A group of West Side children and young teens warm up before training with assistance from coaches from Chicago nonprofit Live Grit Soars at Humboldt Park, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. The nonprofit provides the gear, including bikes, and covers the $90 registration cost for the kids to participate in the triathlon.

A group of West Side children and young teens warm up before training with assistance from coaches from Live Grit Soars at Humboldt Park. The Chicago nonprofit provides the gear, including bikes, and covers the $90 registration cost for the kids to participate in the triathlon.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Live Grit Soars partners with West Side community groups, including Breakthrough Urban Ministries, BUILD and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

“We all work together to wrap our arms around these kids and give them a safe, fun and empowering environment,” Fealy said. “We’re also giving these youth the opportunity to realize that they are capable of whatever they want to set their mind to.”

Live Grit Soars is in its fifth year working with Breakthrough. The program has grown over the last two years — it now offers a winter swimming program and a spring bike club to kids ages 9 to 19.

Some kids have returned summer after summer to train and compete in the annual triathlon. Fealy has watched the triathletes grow from being timid about the sport to seasoned veterans.

The map of the course for the Life Time Chicago Kids Tri on Aug. 26, 2023.

The map of the course for the Life Time Kids Tri Chicago on Aug. 26.

Life Time

Camille Powell, who works for Breakthrough’s Sports and Fitness Academy, said the program provides a consistent, healthy outlet for the kids.

“They’re learning the ability to hold their attention span and have a goal of going from speed, which they’re very good at, to actual endurance and being able to pace yourself,” Powell said.

“A lot of them have apprehensions about certain parts. I’m super proud that they’re willing to give it a try, to train and show up.”

Francisco Arenas, director of intervention for BUILD, partnered with Live Grit Soars this year as a part of a city violence prevention grant focused on helping kids who have either experienced violence or are at risk.

They train kids every Wednesday to help them feel mentally and physically better and provide them with a supportive environment.

“No one is thinking of triathlon when they’re thinking about violence prevention,” Arenas said. “This is a part of our approach to positive youth development and to teach them coping skills to make better choices and not be victims of violence.”

Lauryn Ruffin, left, and Koby Byndom, right, navigate their bikes around cones on a basketball court at Humboldt Park to train for the Chicago Kids Triathlon. It will be the first triathlon for the two triathletes.

Lauryn Ruffin (left) and Koby Byndom (right) navigate their bikes around cones on a basketball court at Humboldt Park to train for the Kids Tri Chicago. It will be the first triathlon for the two triathletes.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

‘Do the best that I can do’

Each training session starts with the kids and coaches circling up together to warm up and go over the plan for the day.

On a recent Tuesday evening, the athletes rotated through three different drills. The first was navigating a course laid out with cones that focused on agility on the bicycle, followed by riding multiple loops on the bike to work on their endurance. The final one was running at speeds ranging from “sloth” to “cheetah” to learn pacing.

Two of the triathletes, Koby Byndom, 13, and Lauryn Ruffin, 12, will be competing in the triathlon for the first time on Saturday.

“I’m excited for the race but I’m also nervous,” Koby said. “I want to do the best that I can do and get a good time. I also want to have energy the whole time and not drop out.”

Lauryn said the best part of the practice session was zigzagging through the cones on the bike agility course. But her favorite of the three sports is swimming.

“I just love being out in the water,” Lauryn said. “Swimming is so fun.”

Lauryn Ruffin navigates her bike around cones on a basketball court at Humboldt Park. This is Lauryn’s first year doing the triathlon club.

Lauryn Ruffin navigates her bike around cones on a basketball court at Humboldt Park. This is her first time training for the triathlon.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

This is Koby’s second year in the triathlon club and Lauryn’s first. Their favorite part is to be outside with friends and train hard together.

“It’s fun to ride bikes and stuff. And we’re working out, too, which is good for us. And it’s fun to be out here doing this stuff with our friends,” Koby said. “We joke around and we laugh a lot. We also bond with the coaches and laugh with them, too.”

Jasmine Levy’s 12-year-old son Jamere Carodine is in his second year with the triathlon club.

“I think this is extremely empowering for the kids. You hear adults talk about triathlon and that’s a big competition. And so it makes the kids feel good to know they can do these things,” Levy said.

merlin_114996370.jpg

Jamere Carodine and a group of West Side children and young teens prepare to take their bikes on agility drills on a basketball court at Humboldt Park to train for the upcoming Kids Tri Chicago.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Breakthrough and Live Grit Soars have figured out how to engage kids in a fun and beneficial way, Levy said.

“It’s a great accomplishment for the kids and something to keep them active. It’s hard in the summer to find something in the area for the kids to do. It’s great that this is right here in the neighborhood,” she said.

“This is one of the greatest things the community could have.”

A group of West Side children and young teens jog along a trail at Humboldt Park, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, to train for the Chicago Kids Triathlon later this month.

A group of West Side children and young teens jog along a trail at Humboldt Park as part of their triathlon training.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A group of West Side children and young teens navigate their bikes around cones on a basketball court at Humboldt Park to train for the Chicago Kids Triathlon.

Navigating cones on bikes was part of training for the kids triathlon on a recent evening at Humboldt Park.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The Latest
After spending the offseason constructing the most talented Bears team in at least five years, it’s time for Poles to worry about the little things.
That said, it’s a prudent time to give him and the Bears some patience as they launch training camp Saturday.
Adel Daoud was handed the new prison term Friday, more than three years after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that his initial 16-year sentence “fell outside the range of reasonable sentences” and removed the judge in the case.
The area usually sees 16 to 20 tornadoes per year. On Monday, 22 swept through the area, the National Weather Service said.
The Bears have high expectations this season. Now we begin to see if those expectations are legitimate.