A new youth triathlon in South Portland is the latest to pop up in southern Maine in recent years as the sport expands in popularity to the youth level.

Nearly 60 participants will take part Saturday in the inaugural Tri Like a Savage at South Portland Community Center and South Portland High School, according to event organizer Anthony Johnson.

The event includes two age divisions, one for children in grades 3-5 and another for those in grades 6-8.

Younger participants will complete a 50-meter swim in the SPCC pool, a 1-mile bike ride and a half-mile run on the school’s track. The older children will cover 100 meters in the pool, 2 1/3 miles on bicycle and 1 mile on the track.

The triathlon is named in honor of Nathan Savage, a South Portland resident and amateur triathlete who died of a heart attack in July 2016 at age 39. Savage, a husband and the father of triplets, was training for his first Iron Man triathlon at the time of his death.

Children compete in the bike portion of the Cumberland/North Yarmouth Kids Tri, a triathlon targeted for youth since 2017. Jennifer Pincus photo

Tri Like a Savage is the latest in a growing number of youth triathlons in recent years. The Tri by the Sea, which began in 2016, will run in Cape Elizabeth for the fourth time in September. The Cumberland/North Yarmouth Kids Tri was held for the third year in July, and the Portland Kids Duathlon – a running and biking race – began in 2018.

The Tri by the Sea had about 100 participants this past year, and the Cumberland and Portland races saw about 150 registrants.

All four races limit entry to children below high-school age, and all donate a portion of their entry fees, which range from $40 to $55 in most cases, to local organizations or charities.

“Most kids love to run, bike and swim, so it’s an event that’s pretty much custom made for kids’ interest,” said Jennifer Pincus, event organizer for the North Yarmouth race.

“It seems to be catching on as a cool event for kids who have never done one before to be introduced to (the sport) and to instill a lifestyle of healthy living,” said Johnson, a manager with the South Portland Department of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront. “A lot of kids have run a 5K or road races before, but a triathlon is new to a lot of kids and they want to see more of them in the area.”

The concept for the South Portland race came about earlier this year when Johnson approached Savage’s widow, Nellie, about ways to utilize money from the Nathan Savage Memorial Youth Programs Scholarship Fund. The fund was created after Nathan’s death and is furnished by the proceeds of the Savage Family Turkey Trot, a Thanksgiving road race held at Southern Maine Community College since 2016. Last year’s trot had about 400 participants, said Nellie Savage.

Children compete in the the Cumberland/North Yarmouth Kids Tri, a triathlon targeted for youth. Jennifer Pincus photo

Although the rec department intended to use the memorial fund to support scholarships for its youth programs, the department received fewer scholarship requests than expected, and the fund had become large enough to support a new event, Savage said.

“We were trying to think of something that might raise awareness in the community about exercising and something for my girls to have to hold onto their dad with,” she said. “(Johnson) approached me and said, ‘What if we did a triathlon and subsidized it with some of that money,’ and I just thought that that would be the perfect thing.”

The fund has allowed race organizers to keep registration costs for the race low – $5 for South Portland residents and $25 for nonresidents. Funds not used to cover the race’s operating costs will be reinvested in the memorial fund, said Johnson.

Organizers will not record official times, nor will they name overall winners in the age divisions.

“The idea was giving exercise and a healthy lifestyle back to the children of South Portland,” said Nellie Savage. “It’s for the kids to have fun.”

All three of Savage’s daughters – Reese, Maizie, and Charlie, age 9 – will be following in their father’s footsteps when they participate  on Saturday. 

“I knew that I was going to do triathlons when I was older, but this year I knew they were going to do Tri Like a Savage, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m doing it,’” said Reese.

Maizie thinks her dad would approve.

“It’s cool that my dad sort of is known, but it’s sort of sad that he couldn’t be here to appreciate it and enjoy it,” said Maizie. “I think he would definitely like it that he had a race that his family runs and having a triathlon based on him because he loved triathlons. I bet he would be happy about that.”

Above all, the triathlons like Saturday’s aim to get kids off the couch while building self-confidence.

In the words of Charlie Savage: “I’m most excited for all of it.”


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