Sitting in the office of their school’s answer to Lord Sugar, Jon Lucas and Steve Ashby shrug their shoulders, giving a non-committal ‘sure why not’ gesture. Something has just been suggested in exchange for a day off to compete in the inaugural Colombo Ironman in Sri Lanka. At that point, little did they know that this throwaway comment would grow from a casual after thought to an unexpected sporting family of all ages and talents…
And we genuinely didn’t.
I wouldn’t say we were a ‘motley’ pair, but certainly in the bracket of just about competent – if we had a school grade, would be a solid C. Learning to swim in the school pool after hours, scrabbling late to race grids and putting in the riding hours at Al Quadra (barely), we slowly dipped our toe into the world of triathlon. Looking like a pair of triathletes sponsored exclusively by Greggs and Sports Direct, we always had the Abu Dhabi ITU race as our highest peak. However, that would change on a toasty winter ride in February when we first spotted the immaculate lycra form of IronMan competitors speeding past, seemingly without any effort at all.
That year would see us on the #RoadToDubai, honing our skills, before stepping up on the big day. Yes, it nearly killed us (and our wallets) but we knew that wasn’t the end, and we knew interest was growing because of our profiles within the school. No way we were stopping now.
So here we were, sat here in front of our manager agreeing to run a triathlon club. At a school which at the time didn’t have much sporting pedigree. And with us at the helm. The literal definition of the blind leading the blind.
Which is why when we found ourselves with only six children at our first practice, we probably should have been disappointed, but instead out of depth. But there was immediately something that made most of these children stand out – passion. And it was this passion, in both the children and their families, that would serve as the scaffold that our club would be built upon.
As the busy beginning of the season passed, these children grew, as did their dedication. Week after week, they would attend the two hours a week of both fitness and cycling down at the Dubai AutoDrome, slowly building those fitness foundations. They say a burning fire can be started by the tiniest of sparks, but the element that fueled this blaze was earned in a remote part of the Jebel Ali desert, when they completed their first ‘tiny triathlon’ at the 2017 TriFest event, and were awarded their first ever race medal…
I know the purists believe that the hunt medals are for amateurs, and that the reward is in the race, but I genuinely don’t get that. Maybe it’s the rising prices and therefore a need to justify the spending, or just that everyone gets one, but I have always chased down my medals, proudly displaying them that scars from a battlefield. To me, it’s what the medal represents, not just the race, but the time and effort taken to get yourself to the point of competing. I know it’s not a fair measure, but have you ever asked yourself what fraction of the population will ever complete a 10km race? Let alone something up at marathon or IronMan level. To us, it needs to be celebrated.
Turns out our children were no different. They were hooked.
It’s at this point that I feel I really must introduce some massively overlooked and unsung heroes of our club – our families. The children’s loyalty and commitment to the club is absolutely unquestioned, but none of this would be possible without those families and their constant blanket of encouragement drive to progress their children. At the beginning of this article, I referred to this club as a family, and this is what makes it. A community of people who not only push their children but also themselves, with many of our mums and dads now competing in the same (but higher race class) competitions as their TriKids.
As well as these guys, we also make one more of our biggest additions to our family – Miss Farrah Clarke. Often found on the periphery of our projects interjecting, Farrah was inducted into our band of merry men/woman with gusto, immediately pushing herself out of her comfort zone, and giving our girls someone to really look up to. With her withering looks, the club finally had someone who could keep Steve and I in check, much to the relief of school management.
Now it’s at this point in our little conversation, that things become silly. Again, it’s incredible how a small comment can snowball into something bigger.
Steve: “To be fair, Bahrain might be a fun race…”
Jon: “Shame we couldn’t take the kids…”
(Both pause and turn to mum, Farrah for the judgement)
And the breakthrough project was born – Bahrain Sports Tour 2019. This weekend for the children centred around the Bahrain IronMan 70.3 and the junior categories. Now our management have been incredibly supportive, but you could tell that from the looks on their faces… this one scared them. No Primary trips had ever been undertaken outside of local overnight camps, let alone international expeditions for multiple nights.
And without any warning, there we were… soaking up the winter sun and watching our TriKids cradle their hard earned (and giant) medals. Water parks were visited, race tracks explored and the two old men clocked new PBs for the 70.3 distance. As a club, it felt different, we’d turned a corner and were now on the map. But more importantly, and unbeknownst to us, our children had started to inspire others within the school community. Thailand 2020 anyone?
Our youth squad started with a simple sign-up sheet, we would blossom into nearly 45 names and a waitlist that to this day continues to rile the LCMs. Branded as our TriCadets (thank you very much…), these children were given an hour a week to train with the older children and start to experience what it was like to be part of the club and make that commitment. After 12 weeks, we didn’t have a single drop out or complaint from anyone. Again, they were hooked…
So I guess that leads us to now… end of the first school term 2019. The club continues to grow and the kids continue to do what they love – challenging themselves with the sport while enjoying the safety and security of the new family they’re with. Triathlon is a hard and scary sport. After 5 years now, the old men still line up for their races with a niggling twinge of fear in the backs of their minds. These children, many of whom are not natural athletes in all honesty, have found a community where it’s ok to come last, ok to not be on the podium, but that the win comes from pushing yourself to be there in the first place.
So if you find yourself at a race and see kids in their stunning new blue tri-suits, dying at the end of a race but still smiling… you’ll know that’s us – WEK Team Tri-umphant. Give us a shout, we’ll be listening :)