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To Participate Or Not to Participate

  • Posted on May 3, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Willy’s school is holding a triathlon with the following mission:

“[School Name] Middle School is committed to supporting the health, safety and welfare of our (sic) all of our students.  This 1st Annual Iron [Name of School Mascot] Triathlon is an event to challenge students physically to be their very best!”

Willy was psyched.  He really wanted to participate.  He’s already sold on the message that he needs to eat right and exercise, and to him this seemed like a great way to be physically fit.  I wasn’t so sure.

Now, admittedly, the school was already wise enough to create tiers of participation:

  • The Fun Heat
  • The Competitive Heat.

But, both include swimming, biking, and running.  That is, after all, what makes it a triathlon.

There are kids that are naturally adept at athletics and there are kids who are not.  Willy is one of the latter.  He gets that from both his father and I—a double-whammy.  Granted, he’s an improvement on both of us, because he’s far more motivated and works harder than either of us ever really did.  But the gains he sees for his efforts are less than the gains a child with natural athletic abilities would see.

For example, Willy enjoys swimming, but his skills are still very rudimentary.  Simply put, we’re still working on the not drowning thing.  He’s not ready to work on distance or endurance, let alone speed.

Biking is a different matter.  Honestly, I don’t know how skilled of a biker he is, because we have never provided our children with bicycles.  Considering the danger of wandering, providing our children with extra speed and mobility never seemed like a good idea.  He has, however, done some bike riding at school, but I’m not even sure he can balance on a two-wheeler.

Running is something Willy does.  So, there’s that.

I didn’t like it.  I was not at all comfortable with the swimming portion and I had no idea of whether he could ride a bike well enough.  I was tempted to say no and leave it at that, but I wavered because he was so enthusiastic.

I worried, too, though.  It was more than his immediate safety at stake.  Sure, he wanted to participate in the Fun Heat.  Sure, he wasn’t trying to be competitive, so when he didn’t win he wouldn’t be crushed.  But, in my mind, I kept thinking about whether participation would be setting him up for some serious, confidence-destroying teasing or worse.

I thought about it until long after the training was supposed to start, and so I figured it was a mute issue.  Then, I got a call.  The liaison for the school, the one who is the go-to person for Willy’s special education accommodations, called to let me know that Willy was still talking about it, still wanting to participate, and that the staff involved had concerns (though, they didn’t know that I shared them until she called).  Nobody wanted to come out and tell Willy he couldn’t participate, because that wasn’t the message that anyone wanted to send him.  But nobody wanted to set him up to fail, either.

To Be Continued…