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Kids Give it a Tri in Omaha

04/18/2011, 10:35pm CDT
By Michael O'Connor

Off to a good start. Sandy Bikus leads her youth triathlon training class in stretching exercises by the pool...


Published Tuesday April 5, 2011

Off to a good start

By Michael O'Connor
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Trevor Green splashes through the water, his arms pumping and his legs kicking in the pool at Life Time Fitness.
The 9-year-old is working on his freestyle, but it's not a swimming lesson. The blond fourth-grader is training for a triathlon.
Trevor is one of about 30 young people ages 6 to 16 who are preparing for the kids triathlon on June 12.
Life Time Fitness at 168th Street and West Center Road in Omaha offered the training class for the first time in January. Response has been strong enough that the club recently began offering a class on a second night, said Sandy Bikus, who coordinates the training.
Like any triathlon, the race consists of swimming, biking and running. But the distances are kid-size.
Kids 6 through 10 will swim two lengths of the club's pool, cycle two and a half miles at nearby Zorinsky Lake and run a half-mile on closed streets near the club. The distances are double for the older kids.
Trevor said that for him, the swimming is the toughest part because it's the most tiring. But he said he likes the challenge of the training class.
“They push us,'' he said.
Bikus said the class appeals to parents because it's another way to keep kids active and avoid the lure of video games and other technology. Parents particularly like that the swimming and other triathlon events are lifetime sports.
Scott Green, Trevor's dad, said that's why he signed up Trevor and brother Colin, who's 7.
“I wanted to make fitness part of their lifestyle,'' he said.
The classes meet one hour each week for 16 weeks in preparation for the triathlon.
Some weeks the training focuses on either swimming, biking or running. Some weeks Bikus divides the time between the events.
Bikus starts every training session with 15 minutes in a classroom discussing topics that are important for young athletes, such as nutrition and how exercise affects bodies.
For example, she tells kids it's normal to get sore muscles after a workout. Kids don't always realize that can happen and can get worried if they wake up the next morning and their leg is sore, she said.
“That's your hamstring,” she will tell them. “It got sore because you did kicking drills in the pool.”
One of the biggest challenges for Bikus is the varying ability levels among the kids in her class. Sometimes the differences are because of age. A 12-year-old, for example, will usually be a stronger runner than an 8-year-old.
Sometimes younger kids with more experience in a certain sport have advantages over older kids, particularly in swimming. Some kids in the class are on swim teams, which can make a 7-year-old stronger in the water than a 14-year-old who has only taken a few lessons.
Bikus said she addresses the differences by letting less experienced swimmers use fins during the early stages of training so they can keep up with the better swimmers.
She uses the same approach with running. She'll let the less experienced runners combine running and walking, or run shorter distances until they build up their endurance.
But Bikus starts with fundamentals, no matter varying experience levels.That enables herto reinforce the basics with the more experienced kids and makes certain that newcomers get off to a good start.
She began the running sessions, for example, by having the kids walk barefoot on artificial turf, turning their toes in and out. That helps build ankle and calf muscles.
She also has the kids play dodge ball barefoot to build up foot muscles.
Bikus does the same with swimming.
Before kids jump in the pool, she puts them through a warm-up to build leg and stomach muscles.
On a recent night, the kids lay on their backs on the pool deck, extended their legs and lifted them a few inches off the ground.
“Does anyone feel that in their core, in their tummy?” Bikus asked. “We've got to go for 20 seconds.”
Bikus then split the kids into groups, each assigned to a different lane of the pool.
One by one kids, jump into the pool, hang onto a board and kick their way to the other end. They toss the board onto the pool deck and swim freestyle back to where they started.
Bikus tells the other kids to cheer, and they let out a holler.
The noise is all part of the training, Bikus said. On race day, the pool will be loud.
“Everyone is cheering you on like you're a hero,'' she said.

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