ST. PETERSBURG — When the starter's gun goes off for the St. Anthony's Triathlon next week, thousands of athletes, from neophytes to pros, will swim nearly a mile in Tampa Bay, bicycle 25 miles through the city's streets, then finish with a 10K run along the scenic waterfront. Some compete for money, others for awards, but most just want to finish. • These multisport events have become increasingly popular in recent decades, thanks in part to entry-level races such as today's Escape From Fort De Soto Triathlon. Now, athletes are getting into the sport earlier, which allows them to get better faster. So triathlon fans should get used to seeing more home-grown athletes among the elite pro ranks. Here are two young bay area triathletes to watch next weekend at St. Anthony's.
Built, not born
Caleb Hudak thought he would go crazy if he didn't stop staring at the thick black line on the bottom of the swimming pool.
"When you swim distance, that's all you see, lap after lap," said Hudak, an 18-year-old triathlete who hopes to go pro someday. "I needed a change of scenery."
Hudak, like many other young triathletes, got into the sport for a change of pace.
"I had been swimming all of my life," he said. "But after a while, you want to do something different."
People love to describe great competitors as "natural athletes." But the truth is — and it doesn't matter whether you're talking basketball or badminton — nothing takes the place of hard work and discipline.
Hudak, a senior at Seminole High School, spends his time studying, working as a lifeguard on Clearwater Beach and training in the swimming pool — that's it. There's an old adage that when it comes to triathlons, you can't win a race on the swim, but you sure can lose one there.
So most of the top triathletes are competent swimmers, but they win the race on the bike and in the run. "There's no way around it," Hudak said. "You have to put the time in on the track and on the bike if you want to be competitive."
But triathletes who come from a swimming background also have another advantage: Of the three triathlon disciplines, swimming is the hardest to learn later in life.
"It gives you an excellent fitness base," said Hudak, who swims a variety of events, ranging from the 200-meter individual medley to the 5K open water swim. "But it can be hard on your body when you start putting in a lot of distance.''
The runners' route
Multisport enthusiasts start off with a firm base in one of the three disciplines that make up the sport.
"Most people start off as either runners or swimmers," said Kailand Cosgrove, a 23-year-old triathlete from Tarpon Springs. "But most good runners are not good swimmers, and most good swimmers are not good runners. So no matter how good you are when you start, you will always have something to learn."
Cosgrove was a standout runner in high school and competed in both cross country and track and field at Florida State University. While she did compete in triathlons as a teenager, she didn't really get serious about the sport until college.
"She never was pushed into it," explained her father, Dean Cosgrove, who has competed in the legendary Ironman Championships in Hawaii 21 times. "But she did travel to all the races and was exposed to the sport at an early age."
Kailand Cosgrove finished first in the elite amateur division of the St. Anthony's Triathlon in 2011 and then again in 2013. She also won the Madeira Beach Triathlon twice.
"I think my strong running background has really helped me in this sport," she said of her budding triathlon career. "I know swimming is something that I have to do better at, but it takes time."
Dean Cosgrove, a physical therapist and fitness coach, said you are never too old to get into triathlons. "You either make time for health and fitness now or for illness and injury later," he said.
He said athletes such as his daughter and Caleb Hudak excel in the sport because they love it.
"The secret with kids is to introduce them to a lot of different activities and sports," he said. "They will be naturally attracted to the ones they love. Then, hopefully, they will stick with it."
Terry Tomalin can be reached at email@example.com.