OGDEN -- While most of their peers sat in a cozy, heated living room watching TV or playing video games, 18 eighth- and ninth-graders from Ogden Preparatory Academy were competing with athletes twice their age in the snow-covered annual Turkey Triathlon at Weber State University on Nov. 19.
The brainchild of academy science teacher Sam Hayman, the team of 14 and 15-year-olds was established at the beginning of the school year and has been embraced by students, parents and faculty.
"It's just something the kids had never tried before and I thought it would be a really good introduction to endurance sports," the Montana native said.
Arguably the only middle-school age triathlon team in the state, Hayman said the kids have come a long way since their first practice.
"It's been kind of a roller coaster to watch them," Hayman said with a chuckle. "When we first got into the pool I asked how many could swim and they all raised their hands. We ended up having the life guards rescue one of them, so there's been a lot of work in the pool to get them into competitive shape."
Aside from minor setbacks, Hayman says most of the kids have risen to the occasion and decided that this would be something they would embrace as a long-term activity.
That dedication was evident as triathletes from Ogden Prep on both the boys and girls side had strong showings in a race that consisted of a 5K run around the WSU campus, a 10K bike ride and a 300- yard swim.
"I'm pretty good at running but I had a major side cramp so the running was definitely the hardest," said Alex Dosier who finished second in the women's 17-and-under with her time of 1:19:58.
Brett Butler took second overall in the men's 17-and-under division with his time of 57:04. He explained how a simple question from his teacher got him involved in a sport he said he'll continue after he leaves the academy.
"Our teacher was just asking if anyone would be willing to put in the effort to do a triathlon team," he said. "So every other day we would go in and bike, run and swim."
Butler and fellow triathlete Zach Christofferson say they like having an alternative to typical school athletic teams and enjoy each of the three disciplines that the sport encompasses.
Being a charter school that doesn't have many official sports, Hayman said there was less red tape involved with getting a team together at Ogden Preparatory than at other schools.
That doesn't mean it was easy.
Hayman noted several obstacles along the way, including coordinating equipment, organizing fundraisers to help the kids pay for rentals and entrance fees, and a national chain gymnasium pulling their support at the last minute before a local institution stepping up big time to help the kids with their training.
"We started working with Marshall White instead and they have been absolutely extraordinary," Hayman said.
Hayman said the Marshall White Center went so far as to buy new stationary bikes for the kids to train on and accommodated them at every turn.
Expecting to see most of the kids back again next semester, Hayman says the plan is to keep training and enter more races. He says other teachers have commented that students on the team have demonstrated more discipline and a better attitude toward everyday tasks.
Hayman's confident the experience will not only help them in the sport, but give them a life-long hobby.
"A lot of them have decided that they're going to continue doing this for a long time and that's really cool," Hayman said. "It's really the most rewarding part."