Triathlon is an excellent sport for kids, says Kristine Chambers, who discovered this at 16 when she was surrounded by Canadians athletes in their 50s, 60s and 70s at the duathlon World Championship in Hobart, Australia. It was 1994 and the Templeton student won gold in what was one of her first-ever races in the run-bike-run event.
"I was the youngest one of the team that year," she said last week, her five-week-old daughter in her arms. "And I got adopted."
The triathletes on the national team-at that time, triathlon was a new sport that drew elite but recreational competitors and would not be introduced at the Olympics until 2000-reminded her of her grandparents.
"I was so inspired by the number of age groups and the people who were involved with the sport," she said. "It's three lifetimes sports: swimming, running and biking, three sports that almost the whole world can do."
The adults she met were fit, they were social and many were linked in a way that Chambers, now 35, hadn't expected.
"I was surprised at how many had terrible experiences in physical education growing up," she said. "They had not been athletes and had not enjoyed sports as children. Then they found triathlon and they could be good at it, they could do it, they could accomplish something even if they weren't a phenomenal soccer player or the best basketball player."
A decade ago she founded Exceleration, an aptly named triathlon club based out of Templeton swimming pool and the adjoining field and track. The club is "a springboard to lifelong participation in recreational and competitive sport that builds people first, athletes second and triathletes third."
On Monday, Chambers will be honoured and added to the In Her Footsteps exhibit at the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame and recognized for her contribution to sport, particularly for girls and women in sport.
Children and teens are taught to swim, bike and run, but it's not really a triathlon club. Exceleration is much more.
"We use triathlon as the basis for the club but it's more movement education," said Chambers. The mother of three has a master's degree in neuro-motor psychology and developed the club to align with the increasingly respected long-term athlete development model, which teaching kids simple, fundamental skills like jumping, throwing, kicking, tumbling, running and even falling safely before they begin to specialize in any one of those skills and become entrenched in a single sport.
"We don't want a child before puberty specializing in one activity because they become too limited in their ability [...] because we don't know how they're going to grow," she explained. "If you take an adult model, they want practice-makes-perfect and refined skills. If you do that at young ages, when they do grow, they have a harder time adapting to [new] skills."
The risk of specializing too young under intense scrutiny and pressure can have dire results for athletes.
"I've always wanted that the goal in any sports program we coach would be to have 20 people loving physical activity than to have 19 burned-out kids and one Olympian," she said. "We need those heroes and the dreams that inspire kids. There is the other side of those heroes, though."
This is the academic side of Chambers, a bright blue-eyed coach who laughs easily and is often smiling. She is also the national youth development coordinator for Triathlon Canada and her husband Kris Hildebrand coaches with her at Exceleration.
Exceleration is especially focused on creating a sense of confidence and success for young athletes as well as leadership and social responsibility.
"We say we've grown more coaches than athletes," said Chambers, who credits parents and the club's board of directors for smart initiatives and building a strong community of families. Chambers said Exceleration will be a success if participants are loving sport through their entire lives. Physical activity and play keeps people young, she added.
"I'm going to be 80 and I'll still be waiting, at some point, to grow up." Like the triathletes she met as a teenager, she’ll continue to inspire.