John Flanagan’s philosophy when coaching young swimmers at Kamehameha Swim Club is to keep it fun.
"Of course there’s training involved, but you want to keep them interested and have it enjoyable," he said. "You want them to not be afraid to try new things and find a way to get enjoyment out of activity."
GUARD DOG SPRINT TRIATHLON
» 400-yard swim, 10-mile bike, 3-mile run
» 6:30 a.m.
» Entry: $80 military, $90 individual, $135 team (add $10 for race-day entry)
PUPPY DOG BIATHLON
» Age-group distances range from 50- to 200-meter swim, 100- to 400-meter run
» Ages 14 and under
» 9 a.m.
» Entry: $10
Both events March 5, Camp Mokuleia
Information: hawaiiswim.com and 372-8885
Online registration: active.com through Tuesday.
That philosophy will be on display in a very personal way when Flanagan’s 5-year-old daughter, Kai, makes her racing debut in the inaugural Puppy Dog Biathlon March 5 at Camp Mokuleia. The 6-and-under distances are 50 meters for the ocean swim and 100 meters for the run.
"It’s going to be over in a couple of minutes total," Flanagan said. "I wasn’t sure if she wanted to race, but we threw out the idea and she seemed up for it.
"What’s cool is it’s got her age group. Most races I’ve seen are 10-and-under, but she’ll get to race with her peers. It’s a great intro to competition and I want her to learn to be comfortable doing different things. We want her to do her best."
For the first time, the shoes will be on the other feet, Flanagan’s wife, Rae, said.
"Kai’s always been there for all of John’s races," she said. "Now he’ll be on the sidelines, cheering for her.
"It’s more about fun. It’s not really racing per se. But kids are getting introduced to the sport. And we were really excited when Chris Gardner said he was going to add a keiki event."
The Puppy Dog Biathlon is a companion race to the Guard Dog Sprint Triathlon, also on March 5 at Camp Mokuleia. It filled a racing void left when the Hale Koa Keiki Biathlon was discontinued.
"It’s the perfect race for the entire family," said Gardner, organizer of two events. "The (biathlon) fee is only $10, courtesy of Pflueger Honda’s sponsorship. My dream is that we’ll be able to make it free at some point."
Free is always good. It’s also the Flanagans’ approach to helping their daughter train … as in free play.
"There’s nothing too formal," Rae Flanagan said. "She’s involved with different activities, mostly for the fun aspects, like ballet, capoeira (Brazilian martial arts), surfing and swimming.
"She just started swimming with John’s club once a week and, outside of swim team, all running and swimming is mostly from our play sessions, either at the beach or park or pool. We’re hoping that by incorporating exercise as a natural part of life, Kai establishes healthy habits and sees the enjoyment in being active.
"She may not end up wanting to do Ironmans or 10K swims like her dad, but she’ll definitely have the background for it."
Kai Flanagan said she was excited about her first race. She enjoys being in the ocean — her favorite time was being around dolphins in Waimea Bay — but that she liked running better than swimming.
Her preference is interesting considering her father’s nickname is "Superfish." After helping Auburn to an NCAA men’s swim championship in 2001, John Flanagan turned his attention to ocean swimming and was on the U.S. national open water swimming team through the 2008 Olympic Trials.
Now a professional triathlete, the 35-year-old Flanagan said his run and bike portions of the triathlon still need work. He’s usually first out of the water on the opening swim leg and then "everyone is after me and I’m running scared," he said. "That pushes me."