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Swim, Bike, Run: Tri-ing to Teach Life Lessons

Fitness 4 Life program uses triathlon and other programs to help kids learn healthy lifestyles.

For their first triathlons, some kids biked and ran in jeans. Others hoped in to the pool wearing T-shirts and shorts. A few needed to be reminded how to click through the gears on their bikes and many used kickboards to splash across one length of the pool.

But it was the lesssons learned about health—not how fast students finished—that matterd at the annual Fitness 4 Life triathlon at Watsoville High School.

More than 500 kids from 18 schools participated in the two-day event on a sunny Friday afternoon earlier this month.

"It's just a fun way to teach kids a healthy lifestyle," said Fitness 4 Life coordinator Jennifer Bruno. "We've had a great turnout."

The program started in 2004 after Joe Trautwein, director of student services in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, completed the Wildflower Triathlon near Paso Robles. Trautwein was impressed by the kids' triathlon, where parents ponied up $50 for each child to run, bike and swim at Lake San Antonio.

"For me, as a kid I grew up doing these events," Trautwein said, referring to the three disciplines of triathlon. "... I wanted to get that kind of play back to kids here."

About the same time, budget cuts reduced physical education instruction at the elementary school level.

Also, obesity and diabetes are prevelant in Watsonville, and many kids don't know much about how to eat healthy.

So Fitness 4 Life, an afterschool program, was born.

The first year, the ambitious triathlon course led kids biking east along the Pajaro River levee, and all of the distances were a little long for the students.

But in the years since, the triathlon—and the entire program—has been adapted to kids' abilities with two goals: make students sweat a little while keeping it fun. 

School-by-school, the co-ed groups of kids grabbed mountain bikes and strapped on helmets so they could power through two laps around a course on a bumpy, grassy softball field. Then they raced over to the high school track, where they cranked out one lap.

Finally, they walked to the pool area, where they had plenty of time to change into swim gear and swam, or sometimes just floated while swim instructors assisted them, across the pool.

"This is all about fun and fitness," Trautwein said.

The triathlon is the culmination of the year-long afterschool program, where elementary and middle school students learn all about nutrition and exercise—swim lessons, dance class, ping pong, bike safety and more. It reaches about 2,000 students grades K-8 year, as well as about 25 high school students who are trained as instructors and mentors. 

Her hair still damp from swimming, Amesti Elementary School student Allie Diaz said the triathlon "was really fun."

The 10-year-old said she like getting in the pool the most.

"I'm really good at swimming," Diaz said, adding that she also enjoys being in the water. "It's good exercise."

Rich larson May 26, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Nice story - great program.

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