Setting up a triathlon club from scratch may be the toughest task Stuart Sams has ever taken on but the pride in seeing it develop has more than justified his efforts.
From humble beginnings – ‘four kids and two traffic cones on a local field’ – Phoenix Tri-MK has grown into a thriving community club which welcomes around 40 youngsters every week.
The Milton Keynes-based outfit have a simple ethos, ‘finish lines not, finish times’, and they are broadening their youngsters’ horizons by funding a number of coaching courses for those aged 15 and over.
The club also hope to soon return to delivering school activities, which were in full swing before the pandemic, and Sams believes a focus on enjoyment has been key to the club’s sustained rise since its formation in 2017.
“We train hard but we have lots of fun,” said Sams, who formed the club alongside treasurer and secretary Crispin Watkins.
“We want to get kids into sport, irrespective of their ability. We’re very aware two kids from the same year group might work to the same intensity and one may be a lot better – but that doesn’t matter. We make it inclusive and enjoyable.
“We have a great parent base who support us 100 per cent and we are different as a club as we exist on engagement from the parents. We need to know if the kids are enjoying it.”
Prominent among the feedback from parents earlier this year was the youngsters’ desire for competitive racing, which was largely wiped out during the various national lockdowns.
With that in mind, Phoenix Tri-MK ran three club triathlons on consecutive Thursdays in August, which quenched the thirst for organised racing and saw the club’s spirit come to the fore.
“As you get older, you get a bit more emotional and I was in tears,” Sams said.
“We had the parents cheering, the kids from all the other teams cheering, and to see the kids do what they’d been training to do for years was amazing.
“A lot of our kids came to us just before Covid and hadn’t raced, so the fact they had that opportunity to do three races, with no pressure, all good fun, was fantastic.
“That’s where our motivation comes from as a coaching team and a committee – to see those kids achieve completing a race as they cross that finish line.
“We had two individual races and then a mixed relay, which was like watching the Olympics!”
Such heart-warming occasions are emblematic of Sams’ experiences within triathlon as a whole, which he feels is unique in terms of its support network.
“It’s the best sport in the world,” he said. “I had a serious knee injury about three years ago and I raced about half a dozen times.
“The amount of people who overtook me on the run and gave me a pat on the back and encouraged me – you don’t get that in any other sport.
“I played rugby for 25 years and while it’s a great team sport, individually you don’t get that [support].
“Triathlon is the only sport I’ve witnessed first-hand where the camaraderie is phenomenal and it’s the same with the kids.
“When we did our club triathlons, the rest of the club were joining people on the last lap of the run to help get them through it.
“Setting up this triathlon club is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life but if I could make a living out of triathlon, I would jump at the chance. We are so lucky to be involved in a sport like this.”
Club affiliation to Triathlon England is now open for 2022 for new clubs and clubs who are re-affiliating to the national governing body. To find out more about setting up your own club, affiliation and its benefits, click on the button below.