WESLEY CHAPEL — Lawson McLeod is a high-energy kid.
The 6-year-old is a national champion after swimming, running and biking his way to success at the IronKids national championship in St. Petersburg on Oct. 3.
He finished near the top of each leg in the event, which included a 50-yard swim, a 2-mile bike ride and 500-yard run for kids ages 6 to 8. More than 500 competitors from 30 countries competed in the triathlon.
"There were kids from everywhere so it was neat to see," said Lawson's father, Tommy McLeod. "The national championship was definitely Lawson's best race as far as pushing himself. The transitions from swim to bike to run are something they have to learn, but he's picked it up pretty well."
A few years ago, the chances of Lawson doing such a thing seemed unlikely. At age 4 he was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder, a neurological condition in which someone has difficulty receiving messages from the senses and turning them into appropriate motor or behavioral responses.
Lawson had limited movement as he tended to tip-toe his way around. Serial casting and leg braces were part of the treatments to help him change his gait and loosen the tension in his heels, which had prevented him from setting his feet flat on the ground.
As he was treated he began participating in several activities, including martial arts, but when he began swimming, his parents found that the activity was more therapeutic for their son than anything else.
"He feels things differently than we do, and I remember the first time he went swimming, he came up out of the water and he said that it felt like there was a blanket all around him," said Laura McLeod, Lawson's mother. "He loves the therapeutic aspect of being in the water so we bring him to the pool a couple times a week to swim. He's able to get a lot of energy out of his system and it's calming to him because he's sensitive to sound and he can't hear underwater."
Lawson's condition began to improve within the next year and eventually he was walking and running normally with his classmates at Wesley Chapel Elementary. He played soccer and baseball, but considered them to be more like social activities than sports. It wasn't until he saw his mother competing in triathlons that he would find his competitive edge.
"I've been a runner for a long time and he'd seen me compete in triathlons," Laura McLeod said. "Quickly he was doing one or two triathlons, and eventually we went to Disney for the IronKids qualifiers and he made it into the national championship. It's strange, though, because he doesn't show much of a competitive side in team sports the way he does with this."
(That competitive streak runs in the family: Lawson's father played football at Yale University; his mother played college soccer at Florida Atlantic University.)
Now, Lawson is one of the most competitive kids in the pool at Arbor Greene, where he trains under the tutelage of Tampa Bay Aquatics coach Julia Lamb.
"He's pretty new to the swim team but he's one of the most competitive kids in the pool," Lamb said. "He's still learning basics but he's got the freestyle down. You kind of have to be a high-energy kid to be able to compete in a triathlon and win. Lawson is the only kid I have right now that has competed in a triathlon, so you could say he's a high-energy kid."
His reputation goes beyond the pool. The IronKids coaching staff has seen the competitor in Lawson come out during the last year and has enjoyed teaching him the techniques that helped him win the championship.
"He is an absolute pleasure to work with because he is very astute and playful," IronKids coach Celia Dubey said. "He genuinely enjoys what he's doing and that's refreshing to see. Obviously as national champion he's already a fantastic athlete at 6 years old, but he's just a great kid to be around as well."
David Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.