Children as young as 5 compete in youth triathlon at MIT

Nearly 900 children donned goggles, helmets, and sneakers to compete in the second annual New England Kids Triathlon at MIT’s Johnson Athletic Center this morning, demonstrating that even 5- and 6-year-olds can compete in the sport often reserved for the most extreme athletes.

“You were already on your bike when I was swimming, and then you were running,” exclaimed Josephine Lee, 6, to her sister Genevieve, 5.

It was the first triathlon for both girls.

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Genevieve was race participant No. 1, the first in line to begin the race at 8 a.m. Her sister, No. 15, hopped into the pool shortly afterward.

“I was quick!” said Genevieve. Her father Jim, 36, of Brookline calls Genevieve “the competitive one.”

Gavin Russell, 9, and his brother Dylan, 7, of Lincoln, were a little more experienced.

Today’s race was their fourth triathlon.

“I’m a little bit tired in the legs ... but it’s fun and it pumps you up for the next one,” Gavin said.

At least year’s event, Dylan placed first in his age group.

Close to 500 children competed in the 5- to 10-year-old category, and another 400 competed at the 11- to 15-year-old level.

That’s double the number of participants last year, according to event organizer Tom Gildersleeve.

“Young kids like variety, so the swim, bike, and run combination keeps them interested,” Gildersleeve said.

He said he hopes children who go out to train will bring their parents along with them to the track and the pool.

“Your kids will get you to do some crazy things,” he said.

The youngest participants today did a 100-yard swim, 3-mile bike ride, and half-mile run. The older athletes went twice that distance in each of the three segments.

Professional triathlons vary in length. The Olympic race is a 1,600-yard swim, 24.9-mile bike ride, and a 6.2-mile run.

Today’s race was organized by nonprofit group Kids Triathlon Inc., which organized eight races for close to 10,000 young triathletes nationwide. Local partners including the New England Patriots, Boston area YMCAs, and the City of Cambridge.