No, nothing to do with the schmaltzy ‘80s Kevin Costner film of the same name, but a brief blog post to celebrate something magical from this last weekend.

On Saturday my tri club ran our annual Bri Tri Kids Triathlon at Steyning.  A record number of young people took part – 210 – from 8 to 16 years old.  Last year we won the Triathlon England South East Children’s Event of the Year and this time around it felt even better.

I think there was something magical in what was created.

Making the Space for Magic

It started with just five of us on Friday evening, stood in a big, empty, open playing field at the back of Steyning’s leisure centre.  Paul Hedger of Hedgehog Tri pulled up in his big van and trailer and we began unpacking the equipment to stake out and fence off a big transition area and then assemble the scaffolding poles for the older children’s and Youths’ bike racks.

Very early next morning it was a bit chilly as I cycled over to help carry on with the set up.  By 7:30am the field was a hive of activity, busy with lots of Club members up and out; most without participating children of their own so no reason to be there other than the love of the sport and to help out. There was still lots to do: all the signage to set out for swim in, bike out, bike start, bike in… all the way to Finish; long lines of cones to be placed to mark out the routes and spaces for spectators; gazebos to raise and fill with welcoming teams, registration envelopes, cakes…  ; a fly wheel to be taken up and down the routes to measure each section accurately; timer chips to set up and mats set out; and much more.

Matt briefing the marshals

Matt briefing the marshals

By 9:30am the first competitors started arriving to register, at first a slow trickle growing to a steady stream within the half hour.  You could feel the excitement and nervousness rising in the still, chilly air.

I helped out with the helmet and bike checks – over 400 bar end stoppers and sets of brakes to be checked, countless loose fitting helmets to be tightened up and heaps of encouragement to be generously given out, especially to the younger ones and TriStart first-timers.

The Magic Unfolds

At 11 o’clock the sun broke through and we were finally underway – the Youths flying out the pool first and on to transition where I was stationed.  Then each of the different age groups came and went on a mind-boggling range of bikes, from fancy carbon fibre and a few big chunky mountain bikes on the racks, to tiny beginners’ bikes laid out by numbered cones.

It was enthralling to see the sheer energy and focus of each young person – many doing their very first tri, others obviously well practised.  There were the odd mis-haps to quickly sort out, quite a few forgetting where they’d left their bike, others coming in and in their haste throwing their bikes in the wrong place.  Lots of helmets hurled to the floor (fortunately grass!).  Almost everyone performed super fast transitions that would put many an adult triathlete to shame.

Super full-on energy and intense focus all around.

At Sussex TriStars (the junior section of Brighton Tri Club), where I help with the coaching every Sunday, we’ve been doing lots of transition practice - so great to see our young triathletes putting it all into action.

Finally, the last and youngest triathletes had run into transition, sped out and ridden their one lap of the field, come back and hastily chucked their bikes and helmets to the floor and sprinted off for their run, the finish and a lovely medal.

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Around 210 young people doing something amazing in the space of just an hour and a half.  And then, suddenly, it was over.

But not quite.

Winners All Round

I had the pleasure of congratulating and handing out the trophies to the podium finishers.  It was fun to see their different expressions as each came forward, picking their way through the crowd – some studiously nonchalant and unemotional; others with a disbelieving grin; one or two of the youngest not quite sure what was going on.

Once all the presentations were done and almost all the trophies handed out (a few award winners had already left), several other children wanted to celebrate their great achievements by standing on the winners’ podium while their proud parents snapped photos.  I lent them the remaining trophies just to enrich the photographic memories.

And then as the last competitors and their families drifted away, we dismantled everything, packing up poles and stakes, signs, red and white tape and netting all into Paul’s trailer; squeezing the gazebos into their impossibly small bags; a hundred bits and pieces gathered up, ready for the next piece of magic to be unfolded at another event and another otherwise quiet, empty field.

What an extraordinary privilege and pleasure to know that on that day the space was created for so many young people to do something really exceptional.  And how great to be part of a Club that has a vibrant volunteer ethic, so many contributing to make great things happen for young stars.

Photos by Grace

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