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Buddy System Father and son complete triathlons

By Tori Jarrell
Salisbury PostTwo weeks ago, Michael and Asa Hollingsworth were standing with members of their family at the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA’s Formula 1 Sprint Triathlon when a man rode up to them on a bike.
“You have inspired me and my son to do the triathlon together this year,” the man said to them. “You’ve just been such an inspiration.”
The Hollingsworths’ story started six years ago, when Michael pushed and pulled Asa, then a 4-year-old, on a raft, tandem bicycle and jogging stroller in the High Country Triathlon. This year, they once again completed a triathlon together, only this time Asa completed it by himself with his father running behind him.
Asa, a rising fifth-grader at Overton Elementary School, still says “yes ma’am” and “no sir” to strangers. He plays soccer, basketball and baseball, skateboards, plays the piano, and so far this summer has attended at least two camps.
So having three triathlons under his 10-year-old belt shouldn’t be surprising. He has completed two J.F. Hurley Family YMCA triathlons, the one when he was 4 and one just last month, along with a kid triathlon he completed last year when he found out he was too young to compete in the YMCA’s triathlon.
Triathlon rules say a person must turn 10 by December of that year to compete.
Last summer, Michael and Asa, then 9, had dedicated hours to training for the YMCA’s triathlon. Michael had sought special approval from Set-Up Inc., which holds USA Triathlon-sanctioned races across North Carolina, and at first, the racing organization said yes.
Then, when the father-son team discovered a few days before the race that the rules would not let Asa legally compete, they withdrew from the race. Michael said he had the opportunity to change Asa’s birthday on the forms, but he was going to take the opportunity to “teach about the the values of honesty and integrity. We felt like it was better to wait a year.”
So Asa ran in a kids’ triathlon and waited for the 2007 triathlon to come around.
However, a busy summer schedule prevented a lot of training. Two weeks before the triathlon, Asa attended a church camp and the following week went to Catawba College’s basketball camp.
“He didn’t have any time to train at all, except for the weekends,” Michael said. “I didn’t want to pressure him to do the triathlon if he felt like he didn’t want to.”
But Asa felt up to the challenge. After all, he said, “I gave my word I would.”
His father added that Asa has dedication. “He has lots of personal drive. The weekend before the J.F. Hurley YMCA’s triathlon, he went biking and swimming to get ready.”
So on July 21, Asa and his father ran together for the first time in the YMCA triathlon at Dan Nicholas Park. Michael ran, biked and swam behind Asa the entire time to keep an eye on his son.
Asa completed his first triathlon in 2 hours, 8 minutes, and 19 seconds, as did his father. Asa came in 222nd, and Michael claimed 223rd.
The triathlon, which is patterned after the popular Kure Beach Double Sprint, consists of a 375-meter swim, a 1.35-mile run, a 20K bike, another 1.35 mile run and finishes with another 375-meter swim.
Asa and his father were at a slight disadvantage during the race. Both of them completed the 20-kilometer bike race with standard mountain bikes, while other competitors pedaled on more aerodynamic bicycles built for racing. Asa plans on buying a more compatible bike when he “stops growing,” he said.
“Because right now it would be pointless,” he said. “My favorite part is the running, anyway. I like it because I’m not that great in the water. At one point, I sucked in some of the water, and it made running even harder.”
The father and son are thrilled to have completed a triathlon together and have plans for more. Michael also wants to participate in triathlons with Evan, his younger son. Evan, 6, has Marfan syndrome, a condition that affects the connective tissue.
Because this tissue is found throughout the body, all types of organs can be affected, including the skeleton, eyes, and heart. Due to the weakness of the blood vessels, Evan cannot elevate his heart rate, which prevents him from participating in sports such as track or basketball.
Michael had been in contact with the director of Set Up Events to see if he could push/pull Evan through the 2008 triathlon at Dan Nicholas.
Unfortunately, Michael and Evan just recently found out that due to safety rules and precautions, Evan will have to wait until he’s 10 to participate, just like his big brother.
“Part of our inspiration to do this is because of Team Hoyt. They are just so amazing,” Michael said.
The Hoyts are a father-and-son team from Massachusetts who have been participating in triathlons, marathons and even Ironman competitions for 25 years. Rick Hoyt had oxygen cut off from his brain when he was born and has never been able to walk or talk. His father, Dick Hoyt, pushes and pulls Rick through all kinds of races. Together, they go on motivational speaking tours to tell people from all walks of life that everybody matters, whether they are ill or not.
“I would love to maybe one day run a triathlon with Evan, despite his syndrome. Maybe somehow we could draw awareness to Marfan syndrome and do something for the (National Marfan) Association,” Michael said.
For now, Michael says, Evan is going to help him coach Asa’s basketball team for the upcoming season.
Meanwhile, Asa and his father will continue to run. So far, Asa has completed five 5-kilometer races this summer, in addition to the triathlon.
Asa loves to run partly for the thrill of crossing the finish line.
“When I accomplish something, it makes me feel like I’ve done something great,” he said.
“It’s not about winning,” his father added. “It’s about how to play the game. We’re about enjoying each other, being healthy, reaching a goal and maybe one day drawing attention to a health issue.”
For more information on Marfan syndrome, go to www.marfan.org.
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Contact Tori Jarrell at 704-797-4280 or intern@salisburypost.com.

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