Endurance test

Reichmuth looks to educate community on triathlon
There isn’t a more intimidating word in sports than “triathlon.” Swimming, running and biking distances that are events in themselves, all in one go, without a break to cool down, where just finishing is a victory for the majority of contestants.

Just thinking about a triathlon makes most folks wince and check for shin splints.

Cristin Reichmuth wants to teach your children the meaning of that terrible word. The world-class triathlete and director and coach of the Hammerhead Triathlon Development Team has gathered some of her young charges for an impromptu training session and photo-op at Gilroy High School. Meeting her in the parking lot, she throws a heavy bag of gear at your humble narrator, ordering me to hump it over to the track where her athletes are trickling in. I obey, much as I expect the kids do when she commands them to gut it out over the final few miles of a training session.

Petite but spilling over with the energy of someone who has consumed a decade’s worth of Power Bars and burnt off every last calorie in them, Reichmuth tosses promo gear to the kids as she directs them into position for a photo.

“Don’t forget to mention our sponsors in the story,” she says.

(I make a mental note to work the sponsors’ names into the copy as artfully as possible, as the chrome Specialized Bike logo catches the light and burns itself into my retinas, a powerful hunger for a Power Bar develops in my stomach and I resolve to purchase some sleek TYR Racing Attire and Nikes at the first opportunity.)

The Hammerhead kids at the training session range in age from 9 to 17. Some have their racing bikes, others are decked out in running gear and one poor little fellow – Garrett Pipkin of Gilroy – stands shivering on the track in his swimsuit, having just emerged from the pool.

Reichmuth wraps a Power Bar towel around Pipkin’s shoulders. It’s as much to get the sponsor’s logo in the frame as it is to warm the boy up in the January chill but Reichmuth isn’t entirely mercenary about plugging the Hammerheads’ sponsors. As a modern athlete she’s just hyper-aware that this is how the game is played.

And of course the sponsorships are nurtured only insofar as they forward Reichmuth’s real agenda. Her first goal, she says, is to promote the physical, mental and social health of her young triathletes. Hammerhead guidelines require team members to maintain at least a 2.3 grade point average in school, while volunteering for 20 or more hours of service beyond training for the team and local communities. That on top of the actual training for and participating in triathlons.

The Hammerheads here today shouldn’t have any trouble meeting those requirements. Live Oak junior Natalie James is already a 4.0 student and says she’s in the training program “to see if I can have an active lifestyle on top of being a strong academic student.” Garret Pipkin’s mother Jeannie smiles and says of her son, “He’s already required to do all these things by Mom and Dad.”

Reichmuth’s second goal is more speculative – the development of national-class triathletes in Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Hollister. The Hammerheads are funded in part by USA Triathlon. “People get into triathlon when they’re adults,” says Reichmuth, “but if we get them started from the ground up then we would have more talent up at the Olympic level later on.”

Coaches in the program include such impressive names as Alexis Waddel, one of the top 125 triathletes in the world and a contender at the 2004 Olympic trials, and Eric Reichmuth, Cristina’s brother, who made news when he rode his bike from Washington state to Maine last summer.

But the overarching goal of the Hammerheads, says Reichmuth, isn’t to churn out Olympians. Rather it’s to get the kids involved in a sport they can participate in for life.

“There’s collegiate swimming careers and running careers,” she says. “But once you’re done, you’re done and there’s nowhere to go unless you’re on the Olympic level – but with triathlon, it’s a lifetime sport.”

And she thinks the key to getting the young athletes interested is to demonstrate to them the progress they make after each training session, after each race.

“It’s really important, for adults, but especially with kids, to achieve small milestones, and to make those goals achievable,” says Reichmuth, who entered a team triathlon – as a spoof – in 1999 and wound up qualifying for five world championships and setting course records in several races around the world.

“When they do achieve those goals to point it out so they feel really good about what they’ve done and the time that they’ve been putting into it.

“So (triathlon) is really a life lesson.”

BOX

Parents interested in the Hammerhead Triathlon Development Team can attend a meeting for new applicants on either Friday, Jan. 28 from 7 to 8pm or Friday, Feb. 18 from 7 to 8pm at the Gavilan Community Education office (next to the tennis courts at Gavilan College).

For more information, visit www.bodyandmindsolutions.com/hammerheaddevelopment.html

Triathlon Age Groups

6 & Under: Swim – 25 meters; Cycle –1 mile; Run – .25 miles

7-10: Swim – 100 meters; Cycle – 3.1 miles; Run – .6 miles

11-14: Swim – 200 meters; Cycle – 6.2 miles; Run – 1.2 miles

15-23: Swim – 500 meters; Cycle – 12 miles; Run – 3.1 miles

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