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Moms who train with their kids

By Katie Morell

Bedside alarms ring just after 6:30 a.m. most mornings in one Ogden, Utah household—wakeup calls for Debbie Perry and her five teenagers, ages 12 to 17. After a quick breakfast, the half-conscious crew drives to Bonneville High School, where Perry is the running coach.

“They’re all now officially on the roster, even my eighth grader, who’s in the off-season,” she says.

While Perry does admit to hearing some moaning and groaning (“they’re normal kids after all”), her children largely enjoy competitive sports because of the constant presence of exercise in their lives and mom’s favorite hobby: triathlons.

Now 41 years old, Perry began competing in 2002, and for the next eight years participated in several half Ironmans.

Training during this time was an exercise in time management. Perry would wake up early to swim and bike and run while her kids were in school. Today she has less time thanks to a heavy coaching schedule but still gets out on the road or in the pool, especially before the family wakes up.

More than 2,100 miles east in Ossining, New York, 37-year-old Dori Acampora is also a passionate triathlete. A mother of two, she started training eight years ago and now competes in at least two races per year. Even more impressive: Her kids race, too.

“My son did his first triathlon when he was 4 years old,” she says. “And my daughter started competing on her 7th birthday.”

With an interest in spreading the triathlon bug, this spring she launched a land-based triathlon for kindergartners at Ossining’s Park School. Students did a simulated swim on their bellies, a tricycle course around a gymnasium and a short run before crossing the finish line.

“I can’t even tell you how amazing it was,” beams Acampora. “More than 400 kids participated, 40 at a time. We even gave out medals at the end.”

This year, Acampora plans to expand the event to three schools in her district—kindergarten through fourth grade—the equivalent of around 2,000 children. In the future, she’d like to push through a mandate that every child in the Ossining school district be a triathlete before hitting high school.

Like Acampora, Leslie Howlett, 28—aka Triathlon Mom (pictured above) —is a fierce competitor with a passion for racing. A Salt Lake City-based mother of four children ages four months to 8 years old, she is a veteran triathlete, having completed several Ironmans.

She regularly runs at 5 a.m. and swims at 6 a.m. to avoid interfering with her children’s schedules. When she’s training for a six-hour bike ride, though, she gets creative: “I’ll throw my bike on the stationary trainer and watch movies with my kids while I ride,” she says.

Mom’s dedication to fitness is rubbing off on her kids. Her oldest ran her first triathlon when she was just 4 years old. These days, Howlett looks for adult events followed by kid-friendly races.

Sally Wilcock is a 44-year-old mother of two who started racing at a time when exercise is normally the last thing on people’s minds.

“A few months after I had my first child I decided to do a half Ironman,” she says.

With the help of a nanny and a husband who works from home, Wilcock, a resident of Chicago, was able to fit in lengthy training sessions. She continued racing for the next few years, completing several triathlons as well as running marathons. Just last year, she decided to go for a full Ironman.

She and her husband juggled the kids’ schedules with her training regimen, and although workouts sometimes lasted up to eight hours, Wilcock says it was worth it.

“I think I’m a better mom when I have a race to look forward to,” she says. “It’s a part of my life that’s my own, and I work well with a structured schedule. I plan to do another Ironman in 2013.

Want to encourage your children to sign up for a triathlon? If so, check out Iron Kids for Iron Man-style events and Tri Find for youth-friendly events in your area.

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Katie Morell is a San Francisco-based writer and editor. Not yet a mother, she hopes to one day involve her children in running, her favorite competitive sport.