Sporting heroes

A participant's ribbon from the mini-triathlon.

The boys definitely participate in sports a lot more in Canberra.

Regular readers will know that my two sons, mini-CBRbound (8) and maxi-CBRbound (11) were big factors in our decision to move to Canberra.

There were all sorts of reasons why we thought Australia would be good for them, but a big one was the prospect of a more outdoor and active life, made possible by the climate and the Aussie obsession with sports.

When we arrived, five months ago now, both kids had been active in several sports – Mini had played football for about four years, while Maxi, after trying several things that didn’t stick, had become a keen tennis player. They also both loved splashing about in the water, but that was usually reserved for summer holidays in warmer places.

Since we got here, sport has taken a much more central role in our lives. The kids cycle to school every day. They go to swimming classes every week. Mini has taken up horse riding. And Maxi has been playing tennis twice, sometimes three times a week. On top of that, the three of us have been training together for the 5km run at this year’s Australian Running Festival, to be held in Canberra in a few weeks time.

Three competitors' vest numbers for a race.

We’re entered and ready for the Canberra 5k fun run.

Then, last week, the swimming school the boys have been going to, Aquatots, put up a cryptic note about a mini-triathlon event for kids.

“Do you fancy it?” I asked them, not really knowing what was involved.

“Sure,” they both said.

The event was free, and was held at the Aquatots swimming centre in Forde, in Canberra’s northern suburbs. A few days before, the programme was announced. For Mini’s group, there would be a 60 metre swim, a 1 kilometre bike ride, and an 800 metre run. For Maxi’s group, a 100 metre swim, a 1.4 km bike ride, and a 1 km run. Maxi was the more nervous of the two, but it was Mini I was most worried about – when we arrived in Australia, he was still in armbands. Now he was going to swim the farthest he’d ever swum, and follow it with biking and running.

The event was brilliantly organised, and the volunteers staffing it were at pains to point out that it was all for fun, and that it was the taking part that was most important – a reflection of the ‘join in and have a go’ spirit that seems prevalent here.

A line of kids ready to jump into the pool at the start of a mini-triathlon.

Nervousness on the start line.

“On your marks, get set, go!”

Mini dived in. After one 20 metre length he got tired, so he flipped over and swam on his back without using his arms, like a little pink torpedo. Every now and then he’d flip over, do the crawl until his arms got tired, then roll over onto his back again. He ended the swim fourth from last, made up some ground during the bike race (although he was out of sight for longer than Mrs CBRbound and I were comfortable with), then made it through the run to burst over the line, a grin as broad as the Tasman across his face.

A scene of arms and water froth as kids swim up the pool.

Maxi-CBRbound tries to keep up with the pace.

Maxi found the pace of the swimming a bit much and, to prevent humiliation, the organisers allowed him to stop after three lengths (60 metres) so he could cycle and run with all the others. He managed the bike ride without a problem, then, at the end of the run, managed a sprint when all the others were flagging (made possible, I suspect, by the little stroll he had through the woods, when he thought that no-one could see him). The transition from “I can’t do this” to “I did it” was wonderful to see, and the sense of achievement lives on even now.

And I looked at them – from armbands to triathlon in 20 weeks; from “I can’t” to “I can” in 20 minutes – and I took a photo of them together, beaming; the finish sign above their heads, ribbons of participation in their hands.

We’ve come a long way these past few months, and nothing reflects our journey more than that photo. We’re here, we made it, we weren’t sure if we could do it but we did. We haven’t won yet, but we’re taking part, which I reckon makes us Aussies in spirit if not in passport.

5 thoughts on “Sporting heroes

  1. What a fantastic story Mark … it really is about giving things a go isn’t it? (BTW It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and my husband gave me, a total and unexpected surprise) a semi-finals package to next year’s Australian Open. I was gob-smacked. Of course, now I have to wait 10 months until I actually get my present but woo hoo.


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