Top U.S. age-grouper Cherie Gruenfeld is sharing her passion for triathlon by helping train a group of low-income children.
It all started when Gruenfeld, who has won her age group multiple times at Ironman Hawaii and also holds age-group titles at Ironman USA and Roth, spoke at a program called Exceeding Expectations at Cypress Elementary School in Highland, Calif.
She used her Ironman experience to help illustrate her points about working to achieve goals. At the school, she spoke with some of the teachers about the possibility of some of the students doing a triathlon in a nearby town. Nearly 200 students showed up for tryouts, and twelve 11- and 12-year-olds were chosen to be trained.
Now, the program she began last year has expanded, and we asked her for an update. In her own words:
“Thanks to two corporate grants and many, many generous donations from ‘Friends of Cypress,’ we have been able to grow the team and now have 30 kids racing triathlons. When we go to running races, we’re taking around 40 kids.
“[Over the weekend] the team did the Redlands Tri. The race director is a real fan and supporter of the team and would happily have ‘comped’ them all into the race, but we felt that there was a better way, a way that would benefit everyone. We solicited ‘sponsors’ for the kids. The responsibility of a sponsor was to pay the entry fee for that athlete. People were wonderful and we quickly had sponsors for each of the kids and many of the sponsors were able to get more personally involved. One sponsor raced with her athlete. Several others bought equipment for their kids and/or bonded over the months before the race.
“Nearly half of the group was doing a triathlon for the first time, but they were helped along in their pre-race activities by those old veterans, and everyone made it to the start line in plenty of time.
“One difference in this race from earlier races is that we had eight families there watching their kids and two fathers acting as mechanics, getting all the bikes in working order. A year ago we had absolutely no parental involvement. In several cases the parents don’t speak English, but they understood the loud cheering from the crowd as being for their child.
“We also had three Cypress teachers, along with the two that run the program with me, there to support their students and each of the three made a point of telling me about individual kids and how their grades and behavior had changed since joining the team. It doesn’t get any better than this.
“They race in bright blue team shirts which make them easily identifiable as Cypress Kids. Having raced as a team for a year and with some very nice press they’ve received, they’ve become local celebrities of sorts. So we’ve been working on social skills that go along with that, such as writing thank-you letters, shaking hands, looking folks in the eye and introducing themselves.
“Some went home with medals for placing but all went home with a finisher’s medal and a huge sense on accomplishment. The big question being asked at the end of the day was, ‘When is the next race?'”
“If you’re interested in helping Gruenfeld and the Cypress Kids, you can contact EE.”
Age-groupers battle in Kona: a look at the results
The Omaha, Neb. resident went on to finish second in her age group behind perennial champion Cherie Gruenfeld of California. And this is what Phipps has to say of Gruenfeld: “She’s not only my chief rival, but she’s also one of my idols.”
As for Gruenfeld, she notched another win as well—her third in a row and fifth in Kona—in 12:46:29.
“The conditions were, as we all know, quite tough,” she said. “Although my bike was very long, I felt that I rode strong the entire time. I am very fortunate in that I have the desert nearby where I can train in heavy winds. When I train in the desert, I tell myself, ‘I’m preparing for Kona,’ and when I race in Kona, I tell myself, ‘I’ve done this in the desert.’”
Women 55-59 Defending champion Cherie Gruenfeld of the U.S. is back to defend her title for the third time. She owns the course record for this age-group, 11:58, which she set in 1999. She was also the first woman over 50 to go under 12 hours when she set that record. And she’s not done setting records-she set a course record at Ironman Lake Placid for her age group this year.
Past champion Cherie Gruenfeld captured the women’s 55-59 in 5:56, punctuating the victory with a 1:56 half-marathon. And her time would have made her the winner in the women’s 50-54 age group, too. Harriet Anderson, in the women’s 65-69, took victory with a 7:53. Both are regular age-group winners at the Hawaii Ironman.
Gruenfeld exceeds expectations
April 30, 2001, Highland, California (www.triathlonlive.com):
Top age-grouper Cherie Gruenfeld has found a new way to share her passion for triathlon—by helping train a group of low-income children for their first race.
Gruenfeld, who has won her age group multiple times at Ironman Hawaii and also holds age-group titles at Ironman USA and Roth, spoke in December at a program called Exceeding Expectations at Cypress Elementary School in Highland, Calif.
“The general theme of my talk to the kids was about setting goals and working to achieve these goals,” Gruenfeld said. “Of course, I used my Ironman experience as the background for doing this. To conclude the talk I showed them a short video of me doing Kona.”
Gruenfeld said when she went to the school to speak, she met with the teachers to talk about the possibility of some of the kids doing a little triathlon in a nearby town. The teachers liked the idea and arranged tryouts for the next week. Nearly 200 kids showed up, with twelve 11- and 12-year-olds chosen to be trained.
“Every Saturday the teachers and one fantastic teacher’s aide got in a van and drove around gathering the kids up,” Gruenfeld said. “Those that lived nearby just showed up at the appointed time. We started weekly bike and run training with them and entered them in a local 5K for a training run.”
Gruenfeld said she realized quickly that they needed money to get the program going and to keep it afloat, and the fundraising began. “The kids didn’t have running shoes, biking equipment and certainly no means of paying entry fees,” she said. “I wrote a letter and sent it out or handed it out to whomever I could find. People were wonderful and responded with cash. Race directors were happy to comp the kids into their races. We have now gone through three rounds of funding, and it will be an ongoing process.”
The children were a big hit with the crowd at their first 5K, Gruenfeld said, and “they all ran a tough course beautifully.” They even had enough energy to run with Gruenfeld as she wrapped up the last quarter-mile of a half-marathon she was running at the same race.
They completed their first triathlon in February as members of relay teams using swimmers Gruenfeld helped recruit—among them publisher and triathlon legend Bob Babbitt. “None of these kids have spent any time in a pool and several, although living an hour from the ocean, have never seen the ocean,” she said.
Their next adventure came at the Desert Tri, where race director Greg Klein offered to comp five teams into the race. This meant an overnight stay for the kids and some more hunting for swimmers who could do the open-water swim.
“One of the teachers has a son who is on a high school swim team,” Gruenfeld said. “He got four of his swim-mates to join him and the five of them joined the teams. Three of our kids did both the bike and the run. It was a real adventure and the kids did fantastic, again thrilling the crowd with their grit and determination.”
Now the children are enrolled in a local YMCA for swimming lessons and plan on doing a short race with a pool swim in June—and they’ll do the entire race solo. “One little guy has proclaimed that he intends to do an Ironman when he’s 18, and he will,” Gruenfeld said.
Gruenfeld said that while she provides the motivation and inspiration, “the real force that makes this all possible is the teachers. These folks will do anything for these kids.” Gruenfeld plans the training, works with the kids on the weekends, organizes the fundraising and communicates with race directors. “But without the teachers what I do would go nowhere,” she said.
Earlier this month she had to tell the kids that start of her competitive season was coming and that she wouldn’t be able to spend as much time training them for a while. But a young man Gruenfeld has been helping prepare for Wildflower has joined her in training the kids, and he’s planning to assume more of the training duties from May to October.
“I’m nuts about these kids,” Gruenfeld said. “I love seeing their eyes light up when they accomplish a goal.” She admits she’s also shameless in asking for money for the cause. If you’re interested in helping, you can mail a check to: Cypress Elementary School, c/o Ms. Jacque Irons, 26825 Cypress Street, Highland, CA 92346.
Roeckert, Gruenfeld, take top IM age-group honors in La Jolla
February 14, 2001, La Jolla, California (www.triathlonlive.com):
Kai-Michael Roeckert was honored this past weekend at the Competitor Sports Awards as the Ironman Age-group Competitor of the year. The Tubingen-based teacher crossed the line in Kona in 9:01, first place in the 30-34 age group, ahead of countryman Alexander Lang. Roeckert was the 25-29 category winner last year in Kona.
He and his wife are expecting a child, and he therefore has an opportunity to take as much as two years off from his teaching job––but without pay. That allows him the time to train as a pro––should he decide to go in that direction––but not the finances. He’d have to secure sponsors first.
After spending a week in San Diego prior to the awards ceremony, Roeckert says he now understands why German stars like Jurgen Zack and Normann Stadler like to train here.
Cherie Gruenfeld rules the lava fields like few others (Missy LeStrange, in the audience to watch Gruenfeld win her honor, is one of the few who have a more impressive Kona record). Gruenfeld has won her age-group in Kona four times in the past six years. Pretty good, considering she only started triathlons in 1991.
Gruenfeld gave perhaps the most eloquent speech on a night replete with endurance stars like Khalid Kannouchi, Pablo Morales, and Scott Tinley. She won the Ironman Competitor Award for women.