FORT MILL TOWNSHIP — Eight-year-old Roman Phillips stretched out his calves, did a few jumping jacks and adjusted his curly, black wig before leaping happily into the indoor pool at Baxter Village’s YMCA the afternoon of April 16.
Countless laps later, Roman finished yet another productive day of training for the first ever “Start Strong, Finish Strong” youth triathlon event, sponsored by the Baxter Barracudas Swim Team and the local YMCA.
But don’t bother looking for him to wear athletic shorts and a headband.
When the race begins in the early morning of April 26, Roman will be decked out from head-to-toe in an authentic Elvis Presley costume – complete with a studded white jacket and gold-frame sunglasses.
“I like wearing it because it’s funny,” he said, without hesitation.
The inspiration for the costume?
Three weeks ago, Roman gave a presentation on the famous musician for his second-grade class at Orchard Park Elementary. He decided to keep the get-up so he’d have something neat to wear for the big occasion next Saturday.
The inspiration for the race?
“We’re all about reaching out to the community,” said Christine Johnson, head coach of the Baxter Barracudas. “With this, we’re extending our arms to the Baxter community to help kids have fun.”
Johnson said the team has typically hosted 5K races for its annual fundraisers but wanted to do something different this time around. The partnership with the YMCA, according to Johnson, was a no-brainer.
After the race ends at around 10 a.m., the two partners will host a Kids Day festival at the YMCA in celebration of the organization’s Healthy Kids Day campaign. Triathlon participants also have the chance to see Sir Purr, the Carolina Panthers’ mascot, as he congratulates runners at the finish line.
“It’s all about promoting youth fitness,” Fort Mill YMCA’s aquatics director, Nick Le, said. “We want to get exposure and educate youth(s) about keeping healthy through these activities.”
The triathlon, which begins at 8 a.m., will be divided into age ranges of 5-9 years old and 10-14 years old. There is a $20 registration fee on the Fort Mill YMCA website. Competitors can pay $30 on the day to enter the race. Early registrants will receive a T-shirt.
Children ages 5-9 will swim 25 yards, bike 1 mile and run 1 mile; children 10 years of age and older will swim 50 yards, bike 2 miles and run 1 mile to the finish line. The organizers have allowed training wheels for bicycles, as well as the use of kickboards and life preservers in the pool.
“It’s important to get the kids motivated and put down their electronics to have fun,” Johnson said. “When you’re racing in the pool, in order to have an advantage over your competitor, you need a strong start and a strong finish. That’s what we want here.”
Roman has worn his Elvis Presley costume three times since that first class presentation, including a trip to his Cub Scouts troupe. He says he’ll probably bring the costume back out for Halloween. Until then, it’s his official training gear.
“I think I’ll do really good,” he said. “My goal is to be in first place.”