Jackie Michael jokes that her 7-year-old daughter, Lauren, should have come with an on/off switch.
"She's always going," she said.
Fortunately for Jackie and husband, Dean, the couple has discovered an ideal outlet for Lauren's boundless energy.
She and her 11-year-old sister Maddie compete in children's triathlons against athletes from all across the country. It's something they learned from watching their parents.
"My husband started off when they were babies. He did triathlons," said Jackie, who is a personal trainer. "He took a break, and as they got older, we got back into duathlons (running and biking).
"Through that, watching us do our races, it just sort of evolved into them trying it."
Two years ago in Columbia, Lauren and Maddie raced in their first triathlon. In the children's version, competitors swim, bike and run pre-determined distances that vary depending on age level.
"Maddie got second place in that one, and Lauren got first in hers. We asked them, 'Do y'all want to do this again?' " Jackie said. "They were like, 'Yeah!' So we started training for it."
Only three triathlons later, the sisters found themselves competing against the nation's best in October in the IronKids National Championships in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Lauren finished third among 7-year-old girls. She finished the race -- 50-yard swim, 2-mile bike and 500-yard run -- in 13 minutes, 38 seconds, only 35 seconds out of first place. Her run was the fastest in her age group.
"I feel kind of weird and kind of happy at the same time," the second-grader at River Ridge Elementary School said of accomplishing the feat. "It feels kind of amazing to me."
Athletes qualify for Nationals by finishing among the top five at one of 11 qualifying events across the country. Lauren had finished first at the Sept. 12 Alpharetta, Ga., event that drew more competitors -- nearly 1,500 -- than any other qualifying site.
Maddie, meanwhile, had quite an eventful day in St. Petersburg. She still needed to qualify for Nationals, and IronKids holds a qualifier several hours prior to the Nationals event.
She finished third to earn a last-minute spot in the big competition. Racing again hours after the qualifier, Maddie finished her race -- 150-yard swim, 4-mile bike and 1-mile run -- in 27 minutes, 58 seconds, for 28th in a field of nearly 50 in her age group.
She said she enjoys the challenge of competing in triathlons.
"I feel really proud of myself because I tried so hard and it's a hard sport," said the Stallings Island Middle School sixth-grader, who also competes in horse riding.
"At first, I didn't really know what a triathlon was and what I was about to get myself into," she added. "Now, I have this drive to train more and do better because I know how important it is to me."
Jackie Michael said the triathlons are great because they promote healthy, active lifestyles. She said the key is keeping training fun for the girls, and does so by allowing them to take control of training.
"I let them pick what they want to do and when they want to have days off," she said. "They're accountable for themselves. They feel like it's much more rewarding that way."
The family said the experience at Nationals was eye-opening. Some IronKids regulars will travel from coast to coast for the various races and bring with them elite, very expensive equipment.
"That kid is 12 and he's got a better bike than I've got!" Jackie remembers thinking.
The sisters hope to compete in four or five races next year. They've already started circling dates on the calendar.
At Nationals, Lauren finished better than all but six of about 30 of the 7-year-old boys competing. She remembers passing many of them and seeing the looks on their faces.
"It makes me feel happy and proud of myself," she said. "Even though they're going kind of fast, I'm going faster."
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