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YMCAs indoor triathlon draws big crowd of athletes who defy age
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Linda Harris swims Saturday during the indoor triathlon at J.A. Walters Family YMCA in Gainesville. Harris and her husband both participated in the indoor triathlon. - photo by Erin O. Smith

J.A. Walters Family YMCA

Where: 2455 Howard Road, Gainesville, GA 30501

Contact: 770-297-9622,

Hours: 5 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday; 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday; 1-7 p.m. Sunday (ChildWatch closed Sundays)

Angie Beccue, Health and Wellness Director at the J.A. Walters Family YMCA, is always seeking to keep people motivated to state active.

Saturday’s indoor triathlon was one way to reach people across different age groups and fitness levels.

“For some people that are doing this, this is their jump-start because they were a little late getting into the groove,” Beccue said.

Saturday’s turnout for the event was almost triple the participants than the year before and she contributes the majority of that to word of mouth.

“I have it out on Facebook and we’ve got flyers out but a lot of people just caught word of it and toward the last couple weeks, people have just been filing in,” Beccue said. “I have a feeling just because we’ve had so many this year, and its going smoothly and people are enjoying the experience that it will continue to grow.”

The 35 participants were divided into separate heats for the hourlong event that consisted of 15 minutes swimming, 30 minutes cycling and the final 15 minutes running. Station were located around the gym with volunteers keeping track of each participant’s results as they completed an event.

“For this, you have to calculate distance within an amount of time rather than just distance,” Beccue said. “In most triathlons, you have to get the distance in whatever time that is, so it’s kind of opposite indoors. You’re given a time, and you have to complete as much distance as you can within that time.”

One of the competitors, Linda Harris of Gainesville, attends classes at the YMCA and usually comes at least four days of the week.

“The swimming part for me is the hardest. I do water aerobics but it’s not the same as swimming laps, but I did better than I thought I would,” said Harris, 66. “The ones that tried, the seniors, all we wanted to do was finish. We just wanted to do it by the rules and finish so we could say we’re doing it.”

Heather Phillips of Flowery Branch, the Active Older Adult Coordinator, had at least five seniors participating. The group ranged in ages from 65 to 84, and many had never participated in a triathlon.

“This group, the five that we have that are in the senior group, they’re all my water aerobics participants, and some of them do some other stuff,” said Phillips. “But knowing how they move, I knew that their shoulders, hips, everything should be OK to do this. I knew that they could do it as long as they went at their own pace, so I felt that it was a good way to get exercise, have fun, do something different and they can tell their grandkids about it.

“You hear the word ‘senior,’ and they think of it and others think of it as a negative thing. But if your body can do things and your mind allows you to be open, you can do a lot. A lot more than you ever think you can.”

The YMCA offers classes for different age ranges and fitness levels. The triathlon was organized as a way to help those who joined at the first of the year reach for their next goal. Many of the participants had no extensive training, but many are active several times a week.

“That’s the beauty of triathlon, because you’re basically completing against yourself, pushing your own limits, you can do it at any age,” said Woody Brown of Gainesville, who volunteered as head referee for the running portion.

Brown has competed in several triathlons, including Ironman, and is taking advantage of the growing interest in the endurance competitions. He is trying to start a triathlon club in North Georgia for all ages.

“It shows something about the baby boomers — we’ve always done this kind of stuff,” said Terry Park, 61, of Flowery Branch, who has participated in other running events and marathons but Saturday’s triathlon was his first. “And I guess we’re going to do it as long as we’re alive.”

Some of the classes offered at the YMCA targeted specifically for older adults include Senior Water Fitness, ZumbaGold, and Tai-Chi, as well as other health and wellness programs.

As the last heat of participants reached the two-minute warning, the crowd cheered them on.

“It looks hard, and takes a lot of stamina. I think they are all amazing to do this and they’re all different ages. It looks like it would take some training to be able to do this too,” said Chris Baxter of Flowery Branch, who was there to support her friend, Bobbett Holloway. “I like to run, but I think the swimming part would kill me.”

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