For many people, beginning an exercise program can be an overwhelming concept. Learning how to work out properly and what gear to get, as well as overcoming self-consciousness can often short circuit even the best intentions to engage in an active lifestyle. Consider increasing that challenge by beginning your journey to physical fitness by training for one of the toughest competitions available to even seasoned athletes: the triathlon. Without the support of a strong group around you, your chances of success might be very limited.
Shortly after beginning a round of swim lessons, Kamaro Bennett was faced with exactly that challenge. “I had no swim skills and took some lessons. My swim coach, Ann Covington, suggested I try my first triathlon. I did my first triathlon in Sept (of that same year).” The group Covington suggested Bennett join to accomplish this feat was Tri It For Life. Since those early days Bennett has become an organizer and mentor with the group and completed a half marathon, full marathon, and is looking forward to her first Ironman Triathlon.
Since 2008, Tri it for Life has been helping athletes learn how to ride, swim, and run. But the focus isn’t just on gaining physical skills. “Getting started is more mental than physical. We help the athletes believe in themselves,” explains Bennett.
Tri it for Life works two 12-week sessions in Charlotte, each ending with the athletes competing in a live race – one in Huntersville and one in South Charlotte. Each session typically has 100 to 125 participants and is usually filled to capacity. The limiting factor on size of each group is the number of mentors available for support. Eight weeks into each session, the group participates in a “mock tri” to evaluate skills and plan on how to train for the final 4 weeks before the live race.
The mentors are the backbone of Tri it for Life. While they do run drills and offer help with things like transitions and training, they aren’t, themselves, trainers. Rather, they are athletes that have completed triathlons in the past and provide critical moral and personal support to participants in the program.
The athletes come into the program with different levels of experience in each discipline but there is one area that most often proves to be the biggest challenge. “Some people are afraid to get on the bike, but the swim is definitely the most daunting for most people,” says Bennett. The assessment at the beginning of each session helps identify the “bubble blowers” (beginner swimmers) and clinics throughout the course help build confidence in the event. To help others find ways to practice, Bennett has suggested some locations in Charlotte and nearby where you can get in your swim training:
1. Outdoor supported swim at Lake Norman YMCA
As one of the very few facilities of its type with waterfront access, Charlotte is lucky to be near the Lake Norman YMCA. Each year this “Y” offers several supported open water swim sessions. Most sessions begin at 8 am with each wave separated by 15 minutes. Pre-registration is not required but is helpful and is completed through their website.
2. Huntersville Fitness and Aquatics Center
Just north of Charlotte is the friendly town of Huntersville and the Huntersville Fitness and Aquatics Center . The center offers both a 50 meter competition and training pool plus a warm water 25 meter pool for aquatic fitness and swim lessons. All levels of swimmers have options for training, from infants to competitive triathletes.
3. Outdoor swim at the USNWC
Along with free music, organized trail runs, zip line, and white and flat water kayaking, the Thursday night River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center offers an Open Water Swim on the Catawba River. The 400-meter loop is marked by buoys and monitored by center staff. Each event runs from 6:30 to 8:00 pm and is free other than the cost to park ($5 each visit or via yearly parking pass). Brightly colored swim caps are required as is a signed waiver available at the boat dock where the swim takes place.
4. Indoor training at the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center
Among the largest facilities of its kind in the area, the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center is home to several competitive swim teams from juniors to masters level. The huge 50 meter competition pool, 25 meter therapeutic pool, and hot tub provide all the facilities you’ll need to get ready for your first, or tenth, triathlon. As you’d expect from a facility this size, the MCAC provides a whole host of group and private swim lesson options.