Up for a challenge? Try triathlon club



Having just finished her swimming warmup for her first triathlon, Alexandra Shirley (12) (center) stops for a photo with her mother (far right) and Renata Bayazitova (far left). Shirley and her team competed in a sprint relay triathlon on May 15 at the Memphis in May Triathlon Weekend at Shelby Farms Park.

After swimming through the cloudy waters of the Shelby Farms lake and emerging covered head to toe in green algae, Alexandra Shirley (12) finished her leg of the 2022 Memphis in May triathlon. The multi-sport event is a combination of swimming, biking and running and varies in the distances for each. Shirley competed in her first triathlon with her mother and Renata Bayazitova (12) with the group placing first in their division.

“When they were doing the awards, I was not expecting us to win anything, and then they called my name and I was like ‘what,”’ Shirley said. “So, it was really nice.”

Shirley, who has been a runner since the fifth grade, picked up swimming during her junior year while in physical therapy for an injury.

 “I found out that I really love competitive swimming,” Shirley said. “But in order to be really good … you have to start when you’re really young … I wanted to find a sport where I could combine my passions of both swimming and running and where I could be good at it without having had to start when I was like two or three.”

Triathlons were a way for Shirley to compete in two of her favorite sports at once, so she took it a step further and started a club for others to join. One of the club’s co-founders is Katie Wong (12), who has been a swimmer since age three and has been involved with the BlueFins swim team as a swimmer and now as a coach.

“I realized after taking a whole year break from swimming competitively, I really wanted a way to get back into it, but I didn’t necessarily want to do a swim team situation,” Wong said. “Then Alexandra explained triathlon club and how it’d work, and she kind of talked me into doing it again.” 

Wong has never done a triathlon before, but has years of experience and will be the swim leader for the club. She plans to train the swimmers in endurance and knowledge of strokes and bring in her old coaches for extra training and seminars.

“I really love teaching people how to swim because I remember the people who taught me how to swim when I was younger like my coaches,” Wong said. “I’m still in contact with them, and honestly, them teaching me how to swim was one of the best things that I had experienced like ever, and I really want that to happen for other people.”

Shirley plans for the club to enroll in multi-sports such as triathlons, duathlons and aquathlons as well as running, biking and swimming races. But, events like these require a skill set that could seem intimidating to beginners. 

“For me doing that swim, it was like three times longer than anything I’ve ever swam in a race before, and then doing the run is like doing the distance that we run in cross country, and then on top of that you do like a 12-mile bike, so I think doing the whole thing without getting too tired or getting hurt — that kind of thing is just very daunting,” Shirley said. 

Despite the athleticism required of the sport, with this club, one does not have to be the greatest at biking, swimming or running, making it an opportunity for someone like Shirley who started swimming at an older age to fit right in. 

“For people who have never run before, we might start out with practices where you’re just running for like 10 minutes, because I know a lot of people they struggle even to run one mile, so we’re going to make it like extremely beginner oriented, and we just want people to grow and improve,” Shirley said. 

Wong hopes the club, which promotes camaraderie, will continue for years to come through the efforts of underclassmen that also share her enthusiasm. 

“It’s not just a single effort, and it relies on three people doing their best to succeed,” Wong said. “I’m always a fan of a classic relay, and especially with triathlon, I think it will be a really good team bonding experience for everyone.”