The annual St. Anthony’s Triathlon has for years attracted elite athletes from around the world, making the St. Petersburg race one of the premier triathlon events in the country. There’s a big incentive to run fast, swim hard and be the best on a bike: cash prizes up to $10,000.
But, if you’re not ready to join the ranks of the professionals and the hard-training part-time athletes, there’s a race for you, too. The Meek and Mighty Triathlon was designed for people with little or no experience. With shorter distances and no open water swim, it’s a good introduction to the sport, whether you’re an adult, a teen or a youngster still learning how to tie his shoes. This year’s event is April 28, the day before the main triathlon.
Eleven-year-old Ava Domico of Clearwater did her first kids’ triathlon when she was 6. She became interested in running after tagging along to mother Celeste Domico’s weekly running groups. Already a regular swimmer and recreational bicycler, Ava’s mom suggested Ava give a children’s triathlon a try. She did, and has been participating ever since. "It’s nice to have a kid who wants to do something athletic for the health benefits of exercise," said Jonathan Domico, Ava’s dad. "We’re proud that she’s sticking to this and trying to get better at it. She now wants to look up her past times and set goals for herself to be a little faster."
Her younger siblings participate, too. Sister Faith, who’s 9, is a strong runner and has even beaten her big sister a few times, Celeste said. Their brother, 7-year-old Eli, competed in two triathlons last year. His mom describes him as "a great swimmer and determined runner. He doesn’t give up easily. He’s quietly competitive."
All three of them will do the Meek and Mighty this year.
Celeste, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom who homeschools the children, is a lifelong distance runner who played multiple sports in high school and college. She runs five days a week and in the last six years started training for races. She belongs to different running groups that help her prepare for the 10 to 15 races on her calendar each year, from 5Ks to half marathons.
Husband Jonathan, 35, a physician’s assistant at Morton Plant Hospital, was also into sports all through school, but didn’t get into running for fitness until three years ago when his boss invited him to participate in a 5K. He enjoyed it so much he started training for more races and did his first triathlon two years ago. On April 29, he’ll participate in the main St. Anthony’s Triathlon, which consists of a 1.5K swim, which is just under a mile in the open waters of Tampa Bay; a 40K bike ride, which is just under 25 miles and winds through downtown St. Petersburg and surrounding neighborhoods; and a 10K run, which is just over 6 miles.
With such athletic parents, it’s no surprise that the Domico children want to be young triathletes. They swim on a weekly swim team, the girls go to running club meetings with their mom and the whole family likes to ride bikes. The children also attend their parents’ races, cheering them on as they cross the finish lines. But the Domicos say their children’s participation in races is voluntary. "We don’t force it. It’s just an extension of what they are already doing," Celeste said. "We want them to have fun and don’t want it to become a chore." But, once the children commit to participating and the entry fees are paid — early registrants for the Meek and Mighty paid $45 each, it’s now $65 until April 21 and $70 on race weekend — "we have an agreement and expect them to prepare and finish," she said.
In addition to swimming, biking and running, the children practice for what’s called the transition: changing from swimming to bicycling. Kids have to get out of the pool, put on shoes and a helmet and mount their bicycles — without Mom and Dad there to help. Volunteers are on hand to assist, but the Domico children practice the transition so they don’t lose time.
According to race director Susan Daniels, more than 600 people have registered for the Meek and Mighty so far, and she expects that number to swell to near 1,000 by race day.
Meek and Mighty participants are divided into groups: ages 7 to 10, ages 11 to 15 and age 16 and older. The competition starts in the pool. The 16-year-olds to adults make up the first wave of swimmers, followed by the 11- to 15-year-olds and finally the 7- to 10-year-olds. Swimmers go in the water one at a time, about five seconds apart. The 7- to 10-year-olds must swim 100 yards; all others swim 200 yards. That’s followed by a 3.6-mile bike ride, plus a half-mile run, for the younger kids and a 5.4-mile bike ride and 1-mile run for all the others.
How much do participants prepare? Daniels says for many of the younger kids, the triathlon is just an extension of the sports and play activities they’re already involved in, but some take it more seriously.
"There are running clubs and coaches who work with kids, preparing them for triathlons. I know of three or four coaches just in St. Petersburg," said Daniels, who is in her 13th year with the St. Anthony’s Triathlon and her eighth year as race director. "It all depends on how driven the kid is and how involved the parents are." Daniels has watched kids move up from the Meek and Mighty to the main triathlon and then go on to Ironman competitions and even compete as professional triathletes. She adds that if a particular child is already physically active and knows how to swim and ride a bike, it’s not too late to enter and still be competitive. The same goes for adults.
"This is a great event for novice adults and children just getting into the sport," Daniels said.
And, if you’re intimidated by the swim portion, know that the Meek and Mighty swim is held at North Shore Pool, not in open water, like the main triathlon. "I get calls about that all the time. The pool makes it more enticing for beginners to participate," she said.
Contact Irene Maher at [email protected]