Think about what you’ve achieved in the last month. Perhaps it was getting two shots. Solid. Maybe it was making the effort to consistently make your bed and put on pants. (Work-from-home life vibes, right?) Perhaps it was just getting back to school in real life, or back to the routine of the office... and maybe thinking about getting back to race shape.
Then, consider Kayla and Kimani. In the last month, the two African-American high school students, with zero triathlon experience, took on—and completed—an achievement that’s too often seen as a rarity among many minorities: their first triathlon.
We first chronicled Kayla and Kimani’s foray into triathlon as they joined the GRIT USA tri team as the centerpiece of a developmental collective driving the advancement of people of color in multisport. The D.C.-area high schoolers became the team’s first youth outreach athletes, the goal being to bring younger people of color to multisport, putting it on their radar as a vehicle for sport, community and more.
After coming into the sport cold, it took just a month for the GRIT USA mentors to teach them the ropes of transition, swimming and pacing.. and get them out into their first event.
GRIT USA founder and head coach Marcus Fitts wasted no time getting their proverbial feet wet, and the duo’s triathlon debut at the Smithfield Sprint Triathlon, in Smithfield, Va., put on by Kinetic Multisports. With a 300-meter swim in the Luter family YMCA Olympic Pool, a 10-mile bike and 3.1-mile run, their work was cut out for them.
Kimani’s parents came out to watch. With a father who is an aspiring triathlete, “his parents were both hyped,” Fitts said with a laugh. Kayla’s father also came out to watch, and, as Fitts says, his initial reservations were quickly abated when he saw her racing… not against her competitors, but herself.
“The nice thing was he initially was against her signing up for this race, thinking she didn’t have enough training,” Fitts said. “But after the race, he said he realized he wanted her to be competititve, but realized it wasn’t about competition, it was about gaining experience, to take on her own challenges at first. I was so happy to hear that.”
Kimani had the same feelings every new triathlete has in their first race as they look out over the water: trepidation.“I entered the race grounds nervous as heck,” he says. “Just thinking about the whole situation was a bit of a headache.”
Having practiced transition area setup, he breezed through laying out his gear for the day at the bike rack. With the opening leg being a pool swim, Kimani joined his wave, and jumped in to kick off the day.. and the nerves began to subside.
“I went in the 6 and 7-minute intervals of time for the swim. Once I started, it felt pretty smooth. I got out faster than I thought I would—about 7 min and 18sec to be exact.”
Kimani’s transition from swim to bike was the same as it is for even the pros: a flurry of chaos.
“Though my transition was way too long, and even though my feet hurt running barefoot, I got to the bike part,” he says. “The bike was honestly the hardest; I got past so many times (and) didn’t know where I was going, so that made it feel longer.”
With the 10-mile bike wrapped, he rolled into T2, ready for the run— more ready than those of us that experience those rubbery post-ride legs triathletes are all too familiar with.
“The run felt like, well…I do track, so it wasn’t anything I wasn’t familiar with,” Kimani said. Finishing in 1:22:16, he was content; he got his first under the belt. “I probably could have done better but that’s for someone else to stress about. I was nervous at first but once I got going I wasn’t so bad I suppose—a good experience and fun.”
Kayla's day started just as Kimani's did: with a bit of fear—and a lot of nervous hydration.
"I was a little nervous about it thinking of all the bad things that could have happened, and the way up it felt like a was in that car forever," she said. "I was drinking water constantly and had to continuously make stops to use the restroom. It was terrible—I have never drunk so much water in my life, and that's coming from someone who has played sports all year round since about nine years old."
The chaos of the swim caught Kayla by surprise, proving that even a pool swim can be a bit of a 'washing machine' experience. "I can say for certain that the swim almost killed me—figuratively and literally," she said. "I didn't know everyone would swim together, and when coming up for air, you will get splashed by the person in front of you. When I came out, I was exhausted. Swimming is so hard and takes so much energy... but I did it."
Onto the bike, Kayla started off smoothly, but got the full experience—an innocuous spill and all.
"Honestly it was nice and relaxing," she said of the bike. "I felt like I could think and breath and control my internal nerves. (But) right at the end, by the dismount, I had a little mishap; I fell off my bike and scraped my knee in front of everyone."
In true "never-give-up" fashion, Kayla fought on.
"It was extremely embarrassing but I had too much on my mind," she said. "I had no time to react. I didn't even know i was bleeding till I felt the blood run down my knee. Looking back and watching that video, I can now say that incident makes me chuckle."
After it was done, the duo collected their rite of passage: their first finishers medals. Coach Fitts was thrilled. “I think they had a great experience, he said. “Like every triathlete, they realized the benefit of a team, a cheer squad. We had music and all supported one another. It was amazing.”
What’s next? Fitts has the duo set for two more races this year. “We talked about maybe having their next race where Kimani’s dad races with him. You know—family bragging rights!” But before that comes some open water swim practice next week in National Harbor, Maryland, along with the build of their new Shimano-outfitted Quintana Roo SRfive aero road bikes. We’ll continue to track Kayla and Kimani’s progress as they dive deeper into multisport in the coming months!
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