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When Osan Air Base in Pyeongtak, South Korea shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 15-year-old Kate Kinard found herself with a surplus of energy and few options for burning it off. Her school went virtual, sports were canceled, and her usual hangouts were closed. The American student, who is living in South Korea with her military family, was given the same advice as many youth around the world: if you’re bored, go outside.
“There really wasn’t much to do,” admitted Kinard. “But everything was shut down, so I decided to take a running camp with Lynn Mattix [veteran, military spouse, and founder of FundHerTri].” Though Kinard is active in multiple sports, including softball and cheerleading, she wasn’t much of a fan of running. But she did enjoy getting out of the house, and she especially enjoyed having a safe way to see her friends each day.
“My friend Jeanie Moughan drove me crazy with her singing and encouragement, and I kept going,” said Kinard. After a few runs, her perspective of running shifted. “After a mile was manageable, it felt like anything was manageable.”
Kinard set out to see just what she could do. Several adults on base were training for the annual summer triathlon series at the Osan Fitness Center, and they encouraged the young athlete to join in on the fun. The small, supportive community made Kinard feel like she could do anything and with each event in the three-race triathlon series, she found a greater confidence:
“There’s just something about accomplishing a long swim, or bike, or run that leaves you wanting more,” said Kinard. “I love swimming and cycling, and triathlon is my excuse to spend all day at the pool or on the bike. Finishing a race and knowing you’re capable of finishing something big is a great feeling.”
Kinard decided she wanted to share that feeling with others. Her experience as a triathlete inspired her to create a youth triathlon program on base to fulfill her requirements for the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouts.
“I noticed that in the world of youth sports, triathlon is rarely seen,” said Kinard. “Kids on the starting line were already runners, and maybe a few swimmers. I wanted to show that everyone and anyone can do a triathlon.”
To accomplish this, Kinard knew she would need to do more than simply teach kids how to swim, bike, and run. While doing background research on youth participation in sports, she found a large need for programming that addressed the needs of young girls. As she pored through the information on the barriers that keep girls from sport, she found much that resonated with her own experience:
“The amount of self-doubt and body image issues I see every day in not just high school students, but young elementary girls, is terrifying, I want to show young girls that anything is possible,” Kinard said.
To address this issue, Kinard has developed a six-week mother-daughter triathlon camp for families on base. The camp includes training on swimming, cycling, and running, but also essential information for comfort and confidence in sport. “Every girl who runs needs a sports bra, and I want every girl at this camp to know that,” said Kinard. “Proper nutrition is another area that needs to be addressed.”
But the biggest lessons of this triathlon camp are centered around giving young athletes the same sense of confidence and empowerment Kinard gained through multisport.
“Every triathlon offers a chance to meet a new goal, whether PRing a time, doing a new course, or running a trail. Meeting those goals leads to the confidence I want girls, and kids in general, to have,” said Kinard. “Whether they walk away from camp wanting to continue with the sport or not, I hope they believe in themselves.”
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