Racing to Keep up with Triathlon Kids

Story by Jeannie Stone

With summer just around the corner, parents are already scrambling to find camps and activities to fill their children’s free time. The parents of four youngsters in Russellville don’t have that problem, however. They’re just trying to keep up with their kids — Cameron, Cassie, Carter and Cooper — also known as the “C Kids.”

Cameron Johnson and Carter Burlison, Upper Elementary Fifth Grade students, and Cassie Johnson and Cooper Burlison, Center Valley Elementary students, are not your typical kids.

Each is involved in softball or baseball season and the Russellville Sharks swim team as well as being seasoned marathoners. A marathon is defined as a test of endurance, especially a competition, and these young competitors seem to be unstoppable. Along with running 5K races, bike races and triathlons — a bit of both with swimming thrown in — the dynamic quartet have their own web site, ckidsswimbikerun.com.

Russellville residents Danya and Jason Johnson and Chris and Jenifer Burlison are very supportive of their children’s activities. Danya had experience swimming competitively and became the trainer during the swim trainings, and her husband Jason, employed with AMERICOLD Logistics, Inc., runs and bikes with the kids.

Cameron, 11, aspires to become an Olympic swimmer or perhaps work in a bike repair shop. The eldest of the clan enjoys football, baseball, basketball and soccer, and loves to swim — excelling in the butterfly.

“Being the next Michael Phelps wouldn’t be bad either,” he said, only half joking. Cameron has quite an artistic side with a love for drawing and music. When asked about his hobbies, he said, “I love guitars, dirt bikes. You, know, guy stuff.”

Getting sweaty and dirty may once have been considered “guy stuff” but no more. Little sister Cassie, 10 years old, has fun showing the boys up every chance she gets. In addition to the triathlon trainings, she manages to squeeze in softball, soccer and basketball. She also loves to show horses with her Nana and has plans to become a veterinarian. Her fall-back talent is writing.

“It’s very healthful,” Cassie commented on her active schedule, “and we are having fun.” She may not be the lone female on the team for long, however, as her girlfriend Gracie will be joining the crew in an upcoming 5k run.

Finding Cassie’s sport was a struggle, said mother Danya.

“She did gymnastics for awhile, but if she messed up, it was all on her, and that was hard because she takes competition very seriously. We didn’t need that kind of stress. We really just wanted to encourage the kids to have fun, and they really enjoy each other.”

Danya confessed, “Cassie’s real motivation is beating the boys,” she said. She’s the one that biked the Downtown Tour de Pumpkin and only rode 15 of the 17 miles because she stepped in fire ants during a water break. She was only 7 years old, but she was begging me to let her continue barefoot because the ants were all over her socks and shoes.”

Carter, 10, is the techno junkie and keeps the electronic gears running in the group. Besides playing catcher on his baseball team and taking care of his three dogs and gerbil, he plays drums and is a Boy Scout.

Biking is his favorite of the three triathlon events and he likes to “invent stuff.”

“Yeah, he does like blowing stuff up,” friend Cameron said, prompting Carter to laugh.

Youngest at 8 years old, Cooper has his whole life planned out.

“I want to go to Tech and be a swimmer, and after that I want to be a policeman,” he said. Cooper (aka “Catfish” for his style of goggles) is known for his speed.

“Running is my favorite thing,” he admitted. He enjoys hiking, camping, being outdoors and Cub Scouting. And what does he do for fun?

“Swimming, biking and running are my hobbies – also playing guitar and drums.”

“The last day we trained we swam 750 yards and ran two miles, and Cooper was whining about only being able to run two miles,” Danya said. “An added benefit is that all this running around after them keeps me in shape.”

Intense practicing on Tuesdays and Thursdays will certainly keep a body in shape.

“They all have their own strengths,” Danya said. “Cameron has a great fly, Carter likes biking, Cassie has an awesome backstroke, and Cooper loves to run. We try to find events that play to each of their strengths.”

“And triathlons let them do them all together,” father Chris, regional sales director for C & L Supply, said.

This business involves the whole family. Mother Jenifer, employed at M. J. Wellwood & Associates, treasures the bonding over trips veiled as family vacations.

“We’ve gone to Tennessee. The kids are really pumped up about an upcoming Iron Kids Triathlon in Oklahoma City,” she said.

“I really love the traveling,” Cameron said. “These are, like, my best buds, and we get to stay in fancy hotels and eat at fancy restaurants. I love that.”

Another benefit Jennifer notices is that the discipline and exercise carry on into their schoolwork.

“They strive a little harder because they know the benefits of perseverance, and that really helps them in school with their concentration.”

Danya is quick to tout other benefits.

“The health benefits are the first major concern because I’ve always encouraged my kids to be active,” she said. “Through every event we learn something. During the first race we stopped to tie shoes five times. We figured out that we needed to prepare for that, and we made accommodations.

“It’s very gratifying. We just want to keep it positive. There are so many sports that end when kids get out of high school or that they’re denied because they didn’t make the cut, but swimming, biking and running are lifestyle sports.”

When the group decided to add swimming to their repertoire to lengthen the short swimming season, Danya introduced strategy.

“We started talking about training regularly to improve our performance, and they were game.”

Danya is grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time with her children.

“When you put yourself around your kids they’ll open up to you,” she said. “Kids like to talk, and they start spewing information on how their day was – what their homework is, what the teacher said – we just chat, chat, chat.

“If you were to ask them how often they train, they’d just shrug. They have fun,” Danya said, “and to them this is just a bike ride, going for a swim or running around the block.”

Chris added, “Triathlons are a personal- best sport as is life, and continuing this lifestyle can lead to a better quality of life.

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