Photos by Eli Kaplan
There’s something palpable about that first time you pull on a wetsuit. Something… unstoppable. Even super heroic about it. As his coaches helped him through the protocol, Kimani wasn’t sure about being wrapped like a mummy in neoprene. But here he was… learning a key trade of tri.
Kimani’s indoctrination into the wetsuit swimming realm is just part of his and fellow Washington, D.C.-area high school student Kayla’s progression into becoming triathletes. The duo are the central figures in GRIT USA Triathlon Team's Youth Development Program, driving the advancement of people of color in multi-sport. With several mentors guiding them along the way, Kimani and Kayla are learning to become triathletes—from the ground up. In supporting their progression Quintana Roo–in conjunction with Shimano—has been keeping up with their progress, from their ground zero start in March, the story of which you can read here.
In June, three months on, things have certainly progressed. The duo not only learned the ins and outs of setting up their transition area and how to train in the pool for the swim, even how to track and log their daily training on TrainingPeaks, and part in their first tri—a sprint race. With Covid-19 restrictions lessening, the team is better able to interact with their star proteges in training, and supporting them in their debut races.
"I’m definitely more comfortable compared to three months ago, that’s for sure,” Kimani says. “Our next open water swim is a 750-meter event, and I’m happy to now be used to not stopping in the swim. I used to be breathless, totally exhausted.”
“It sure helps to have the right goggles and jammers now, too!” he adds with a laugh.
But one race doesn’t mean they’re done. In early June, Kimani undertook that wetsuit rite of passage as his mentors—Colin Ball, John Kofmehl and GRIT founder Marcus Fitts—tracked his progression. As it is with all of us the first time we hit the water in a wetsuit, it’s a remarkable feeling.
“It was unreal,” Kimani says of the first time swimming in his QR HYDROfive wetsuit. “I’m not the best at floating, and the buoyancy is great, and I was a lot drier out of the water than I thought I would have been. It might add a bit more time getting it off out of the water, but it would be worth it.”
“It’s been interesting to see Kimani’s progress in particular,” says Ball. “When he came to his first bike/run brick he looked fine, but you can see him coming back from the run exhausted. He’s learning about pacing his effort.”
Fellow mentor Kofmehl agrees, “Seeing Kimani doing his bricks on Wednesdays, doing a three-mile loop around Hains Point, he’s gaining more confidence in his bike handling skills, and pushing it harder on intervals," he says. “The last workout was a minute on, a minute off, then two minutes on/two minutes off, and it’s the hardest I’ve seen him push. He’s just that much more confident.”
Kimani said he’s also opening his eyes to the sport beyond his own experiences, from the pros (and his own GRIT teammates racing Ironman) to those pro triathletes prepping for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. “I knew it was a ‘thing,’ but the sport of triathlon is a lot bigger than I thought,” he says. “I’m glad I’m doing it, and that makes me intrigued long-term.”
The thing everyone is most excited about? With summer now arriving, Kimani is excited to push his training to new levels, without schoolwork chewing into his training and learning time. And instead of high school curriculum, his new lessons now include “Bike Maintenance 101” and “How to Change a Flat Tire.”
“With the amount of training he’s been putting in, he’s doing well—very capable," Fitts says, “We put most adults in the same situations, and they’d take longer to grasp it. He’s a solid swimmer, his biggest growth is on the bike, and he’s managing the challenge of that heavy leg feeling of a brick run off the bike, having the stamina and endurance to finish strong. Kimani has youth on his side."
With one more race coming this summer, there’s one more piece of the equation to come: their new Quintana Roo TEAM GRIT team issue SRfive aero road bikes—the racing pièce de résistance to round out their progression. Check in next month as we follow up and the two young guns have their new Shimano-equipped bikes presented and get in their debut rides.
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HYDROsix Wetsuit | HYDROfive Wetsuit | HYDROspeed Swimskin