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YOUTHS GET TASTE OF BEING A TRIATHLETE

Seven o'clock in the morning on a Sunday is too early for many people to exercise, but for the 200 triathletes who showed up to the James P. Gills Family YMCA, it's never too early for a challenge.

The Youth Triathlon Series concluded its season Sunday. The series extended over the past six months and included stops as far away as Tallahassee.

"We wanted to make a Little League for young triathletes," said youth triathlon creator Suzanne Henslee said. "It started last year with six races and this year we have nine going all the way up to Florida State University. We're working with the YMCA hoping that YTS will become another YMCA offered program."

Henslee began staging triathlons back in 2004. After noticing a lack of options for youth athletes whose desire was to compete in triathlons, Henslee got the idea for the youth triathlon. Henslee's profession is marketing triathlons to corporate sponsors, so she immediately had aspirations of finding big-time sponsors. She would soon find it in Nike's Livestrong campaign.

"With so many adults living and training in the Tampa Bay area, it became obvious that their kids wanted to compete too," Henslee said. "You're not able to offer much professionalism normally because it isn't a cheap sport. The timing system alone is a $50,000 timing system, so we needed professional sponsors. I sent something to Livestrong and incredibly, they got back to me very quickly after researching us."

With the idea spawning from parents involved in triathlons, the youth triathlon offers a race for adults that is a bit different from races adult triathletes would normally compete in. Palm Harbor's Patricia Hoffman has been competing in the Livestrong races for both seasons and sees the events as a nice complement to her usual triathlon races.

"These are good races for people that are trying to get involved in triathlons," said Hoffman, 59. "The events are shorter than a regular triathlon but they're good for learning how to transition from one aspect of the race to another. I've been doing triathlons for almost 20 years and I like these because it's kind of like a sprint rather than a marathon."

With more than 1,200 families involved in the Youth Triathlon Series statewide, the events involve a wide range of competitors but that doesn't hurt the sense of community around the triathlon's events.

"It's easy to figure out what is going on and everybody is really friendly," said Ellen Lafleor, mother of a new competitor. "I heard about this through my neighbors and I'm glad I did. We had done some single youth triathlon events but they weren't nearly this organized or they were so big that it was too overwhelming."

Fast Facts

Want to compete?

For information on the Youth Triathlon Series, go to www.iamtri.com/profile/YTS.

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