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Fun times three for kids at Kootenai Health triathlon

Joey Bonacci is only 5 years old, but he’s training for his second triathlon.

He asks his baby sitter to time him as he sprints across his Hayden lawn. He took swimming lessons this winter so he’d be more comfortable in the water. And he packs milk in his lunch because it’s better “fuel” than soda.

“Once the sun came out, he was training,” said his mother, Nicky Flagor. “He would do that race every weekend if he could.”

“That race” is the Kootenai Health Triathlon for Kids in Coeur d’Alene. Joey did it for the first time last year, at age 4, and finished second in his heat. This year, he’s shooting for the top spot on the podium.

Up to 200 kids will descend on Kootenai Health’s McGrane Center for Rehabilitation on Sept. 3 to compete in the third annual event. The race course loops around the center, which is cordoned off to make it as safe as possible.

Open to children ages 4 to 11, the race was created by 18-time Ironman finisher Shawn Burke, who also is a physical therapist assistant at the McGrane Center.

“The whole race is designed so the kids will actually succeed,” Burke said. “We want these kids to be able to set a goal and achieve their goal.”

The youngest children swim one lap in the McGrane Center pool (96 feet), followed by one lap around the center on their bike (about 1,320 feet), and one lap of running (about 1,000 feet). The number of laps increases for older children, up to two laps of swimming, five laps of biking and two laps of running.

The race starts at 10 a.m. and costs $17, which includes an event T-shirt.

Children are welcome to use life jackets or kickboards, and lifeguards will be on duty. In addition, parents are able to follow their children around the course to support them. The race also welcomes children who have lost limbs or who use wheelchairs.

All race profits are donated to Kootenai Medical Center’s Children’s Miracle Network and are matched by the hospital, Burke said. The first year, the event broke even. Last year, $500 was raised, and this year Burke anticipates $2,000 in proceeds.

Children race in heats of eight, and the top three in each receive ribbons on the podium. All children who finish receive a medal.

“We have kids who will wear their medal for two weeks straight,” Burke said. “I just encourage the parents to give their kids a shot. It’s something that will be with these kids for the rest of their lives.”

The event also tries to encourage healthy eating habits, with input from registered dietitians. Snacks at the finish line include water, apple slices and yogurt.

“We’re promoting health, nutrition and fitness to these kids,” Burke said, adding that many of the 60 volunteers are triathletes from throughout the Inland Northwest. “It’s a way to give back and make a difference in a kid’s life.”