Ten-year-old Wu Minxuan trained for Sunday’s New England Kids Triathlon every day for the past three years.
“I have already tried my best,” he said through a translator after finishing his first triathlon in the United States. Wu is one of 15 Chinese child triathletes who traveled to Boston for the race at MIT’s Johnson Athletics Center. His entire family came to see him compete.
“This is a tiring competition,” Wu said. “I never expected I could run so fast.”
The Chinese racers competed in a qualifying round of sorts in their home country in May, earning them the trip overseas and entry into the New England race. It was the first time a Chinese contingent has participated after one child from China competed last year, according to Tom Gildersleeve, founder of the New England branch of the Kids Triathlon.
“I’ve been looking forward to this since last year,” said 14-year-old Wang Yuan. “I get to make a lot of friends, and there’s always something new.”
Wang said the race was different than competitions she was used to in China.
“It’s a little hard because we’re not used to the directions and the road is bumpy,” she said. “The kids’ swimming is really astonishing.”
The annual triathlon, now in its sixth year, hopes to introduce hundreds of children to something new, said Gildersleeve.
“Triathalon’s not necessarily a sport you’re going to compete in in high school or anything like that,” Gildersleeve said. “That’s really our goal, is to introduce them to something that maybe they won’t play in high school, may not do it in college, but it’s something they can always do to keep active.”
Gildersleeve said roughly half of the 1,100 triathletes, ages 6 through 15, were attempting their first triathlon this year.
Among the rookies was 10-year-old Chloe Chofay, of Lincoln, who only signed up for the event a week prior. Just after finishing, Chloe said she was “a little excited because I actually finished.”
Chloe swims with the MacColl YMCA in her hometown and was competing Sunday with about 20 teammates. Her teammates had been practicing for weeks, she said, but she jumped in cold.
“The swim was pretty easy, the bike was pretty easy, but I’m not a runner,” she said. But, she said, “I made it.”
Chloe said she’ll be back next year as a senior racer to take on the longer distances that face older competitors.
“I think it’s fabulous. I think it’s a great thing to do,” said Chloe’s mom, Kristen Chofay. “It looks like a thumbs up for next year.”
Ella Ross, 8, of Newton, returned to the New England race for a third year on Sunday. Ella has completed five triathlons and medaled in a couple, said her dad, Joshua Ross .
“It’s just for fun, but she does have a trophy at home,” he said. “One of the proudest trophies, I think.”
Ella sported a new bike this year for her favorite leg of the triathlon. Swimming, she said, was her least favorite, but she was just happy to have not gotten a cramp.
“Whenever I see someone pass me, I feel like I need to go faster,” Ella said after the race.
Normally Ella races alongside her two older siblings, her father said, but this year they were away at camp.
But the Rosses still relied on their experience both on the course and on the sidelines Sunday.
“We have a system now for cheering,” Joshua Ross said. “So Mom does the swim and the transition and the run, and then I was out on the bike course. If you stand in the right place on the bike course, you can see them three times in the two laps.”
Parents on the sidelines got their exercise too, running from the indoor pool to the finish line. Some carried signs, cameras, or even pajama-clad younger siblings.
The festivities started early, helping to beat the midday heat. Check-in started at 6:30 a.m. and the first racers lined up an hour later. At least one family with noncompeting kids in tow set down blankets for a prerace rest.
“I don’t like waking up early,” said 12-year-old Tessa Brown. “I like triathlons, though.”
Sunday’s triathlon was Tessa’s 22nd, but she said she still gets a little nervous each time. She traveled from Durham, N.H., with her neighbor, 11-year-old Libby Davidson.
Tessa said she first got into triathlons when her running club took up biking and swimming. When she moved to New Hampshire and onto Libby’s street, her new friend got “roped in” too.
Tessa and Libby watched as the youngest competitors swam laps, more than two hours before their own start times.
The camaraderie among racers spanned age groups; older racers high-fived their younger counterparts at the start line. One veteran triathlete aged out of the kids triathlons but came back to volunteer.
“I came all the way from Canada last night just to be here,” Darr Smith told the young competitors as they lined up.
Smith, 18, volunteered Sunday fresh off a first-place triathlon finish at the Pan American Championship in Canada the day before, and he will compete at the world championships in the Netherlands in September.
On Sunday he joined four-time Olympian Hunter Kemper in leading children to the start line and doling out encouragement.
“I know I was at this place, and I know I was one of these kids,” Smith said. “It’s awesome just seeing all the kids having a blast, but then having their friends involved in it [too].”Sara Salinas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @saracsalinas.