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Three times the fun

Nathan Ilse knew before last weekend that he liked running triathlons. He just didn't know how much he'd like watching his take on the challenge.

On Sunday morning, the Rosemount Middle School teacher was part coach, part cheering section as a group of 16 RMS sixth and seventh graders swam, pedaled and ran their way to an invisible finish line in an indoor triathlon at Life Time Fitness in Maple Grove.

As the students racked up miles on a bank of treadmills Ilse couldn't help but smile.

"This day has been about 10 times as fun as I thought it would be," he said. "I'm on cloud nine."

The day Ilse was referring to was the crowning event of the first season of the RMS triathlon club. Ilse, who started competing in triathlons a few years ago, launched the club in January as a way to introduce students to the sport.

With just a few advertisements in the school's announcements, Ilse attracted about 20 students. A few had done triathlons, but many were new to the sport.

For 10 sessions over about five weeks, Ilse gave them an introduction. He led them in swimming and biking exercises and on runs on a route through the school's hallways. They also did workouts to strengthen their core.

Then, on Sunday, they put their preparation to the test. While many of their classmates were still asleep, the RMS students climbed into the car for the long trip to the northwest. Ilse chose the Maple Grove triathlon because it's the one that best fit his schedule. A swimming and track coach, he has other sports to attend to in the near future.

It's also an event he's had good luck with in the past. Ilse and some other RMS staff members competed in the Maple Grove triathlon last year.

The students competed in two groups, one all boys and the other all girls. For the bike and run segments they wore custom shirts that had the club's name on the front and "We Tri Harder" on the back.

Ilse wasn't sure what to expect from the students. What he saw impressed him. There were 80 competitors in Sunday's event, and three of the RMS students finished in the top 10 among all entrants. Eight of the students finished in about the top third of the field.

By the time they were done, the students were tired and sore but enthusiastic.

"It's really fun," said Sydney Regalado, a sixth grader who finished in the middle of the field.

Students joined the club for a variety of reasons. Some wanted to try a triathlon. Others were looking for ways to motivate themselves.

"I just wanted to get out of video games," said sixth grader Jack Hartigan, who finished 21st.

Because he'd done the event before, Ilse had an idea what the results would look like. As his students neared the finish, he was confident some of them would place well.

"I think a lot of the kids are going to go home pretty proud of themselves," he said.

Ilse went home happy, too. He was already looking forward to the club's second year.

"I told the parents, I love doing triathlons, but this might be more fun than actually doing one myself," he said. "I'm already excited about doing it next year."