CHAPEL HILL — Like a father needing to buy a bigger bike for a growing child, the Swim for Smiles Youth Triathlon shifted to a bigger locale for its seventh edition.
But the core didn’t change: Tens of thousands of dollars raised and hundreds of competitors pouring sweat – and in cases blood and tears – into a morning of swimming, biking and running.
More than 520 youngsters aged 5 to 19 participated in the event concocted from Gary Kayye’s love of triathlons and his gratitude for the hospital that saved his daughter’s life. This year the Briar Chapel neighborhood south of Chapel Hill hosted what Kayye said will likely be the second largest youth triathlon in the country.
As it has grown during the years, the race – with its motto “kids helping kids” – has raised more than $200,000 for children’s hospitals, most of it going to the N.C. children’s Hospital.
At the hospital in Chapel Hill, Kayye’s daughter was diagnosed at age 4 with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, a rare neurological disorder. She was treated for nine weeks. She survived and is now 17.
“That’s a life-changing experience. A doctor at the North Carolina children’s Hospital saved her life, so it made me want to give back to that hospital at some point in time,” Kayye said. “When I got involved in triathlons, that’s when I started noticing kids (didn’t have their own triathlons) – and I put two and two together.”
The long course consisted of a 300-meter swim, 5-mile bike ride and 3 -kilometer run. The short course cut those down to 100 meters, 2.5 miles and 1 kilometer. Relay teams also participated.
“I love seeing kids get involved in the sport and at the same time helping the children’s hospital,” Kayye said, adding that it was the first triathlon for more than half the competitors. “It’s amazing to see how happy they are when they cross the finish line.”
At the finish line, some of the faces indicated more pain than happiness. Competitors mustered as much sprint as they could down the final stretch, anguishing after prolonged exertion. Most staggered across the line. A few had scraped legs from bike crashes, a few others exhausted tears.
“I’m really, really exhausted. I want to fall asleep right now,” said Logan Heck, 10, a first-time /triathlete/ triathloner from Chapel Hill.
But Logan, who recently picked up cross country as well, said he enjoyed it, a common sentiment among participants new and old.
“Everyone’s really nice. It’s just fun to be around,” said Evan Yenulvich, 17, of Raleigh, who has run in the event every year since its inception along with his sister Kristen, 13.
The football player at Middle Creek High School, who posted the fastest long-course time in his 15-19 age bracket, said he was happy to be racing for a good cause.
Will Belote of Cary posted the fastest overall time on the long course to win his 13-14 age bracket. Jo Murphy, 16, of Newport won the 15-19 age bracket with the fastest female time.
Kayye estimated that about 75 percent of the competitors came from the Raleigh-Durham area, and that about 10 percent came from out-of-state.