Credit: Provided

GARFIELD PARK — A team of kids from East Garfield Park will be running, biking and swimming towards the finish line Saturday as they compete in the Chicago Triathlon.

The Life Time Kids Tri Chicago race, which is geared towards introducing youth to the sport, starts off with a 200-meter swim at Foster Beach, followed by a seven-kilometer bike ride and a two-kilometer run along the lakeshore.

The kids triathlon is open to ages seven to 14, with athletes under 11 years old taking a shorter route.

Course Map for the Life Time Kids Tri.

The dozen Garfield Park kids are competing through Breakthrough Urban Ministries, a local nonprofit that operates programs for housing, violence prevention, health and youth development on the West Side. The team is also using the competition as a platform to raise funds for Breakthrough’s Sports and Fitness Academy so that more kids can join in on the athletic programs that they offer, and even compete in the triathlon next year.

“I’m happy that we’re making money and helping other people. It makes me happy to help them,” said Jamilah Jackson, a seventh-grader competing Saturday. “I hope that my friends want to do it.”

Jackson’s favorite event is swimming, but she also plays basketball and runs track, all of which have led her to compete in other races like the Lawndale 5K. Jackson’s mother said training for competitions like the triathlon is a great chance to get kids in East Garfield Park involved in sports that aren’t typically available to kids in the neighborhood.

“It’s something that’s not normally introduced to kids in our community. She loves swimming so it could give her a lot of insight on if she wants to become a professional swimmer,” said Shavon Lyode, who added that she’s excited her daughter gets to contribute to opening up opportunities for other local kids through the fundraiser.

The Breakthrough kids took part in a 12-week training regimen to prepare for the race that started in June. Gillian Fealy is one of the coaches helping the kids train through a partnership with her youth triathlete organization Live Grit Soars. She said youth out west face significant hurdles to being able to access the sport, but wants more young people in the area to be able to participate.

Youth training with Breakthrough for the 2019 Chicago Triathlon.

“Chicago is not always the easiest place to ride a bike. Access to pools, and even more importantly access to swimming lessons — it’s hard,” she said.

To get ready for the race, the kids worked on their swimming skills at the Humboldt Park Lagoon, and also did a practice day at the Ohio Street Beach to get used to the feeling of swimming in the lake.

Saturday’s triathlon will be a first for all the kids involved. But for some of the kids, training for the competition was even their first time even riding a bike. Fealy said the excitement of learning new skills for the race is emblematic of what she thinks all the kids will take away from the experience.

The kids trained for 12 weeks to swim, run, and bike with the mental fortitude and endurance to complete the race.

“My hope is that when they cross that finish line that they have one of those moments that anything is possible and that they can do anything when they put in the hard work, when they overcome obstacles,” Fealy said. “And I hope that this is an experience that gives them that feeling so that they can take that into the rest of their lives.”

To donate to the Breakthrough Youth Triathlon Fundraiser, check out the group’s Facebook page here.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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