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Multisport churning out elite athletes

Created: Friday, June 22, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

Multisport Madness officials count their athletes’ medals for accuracy, not posterity.

They would like to count your child among their ranks, and for consideration cite the case of Victoria Clinton.

In the spring of 2011, Clinton came to the Geneva-based triathlon club as an accomplished eighth-grade runner about to embark on a career at Kaneland. She was inexperienced as a biker and swimmer, but her skills elsewhere helped her through.

It’s just more than a year later, and Clinton has caught the attention of the national junior triathlon circuit as a champion in waiting. She has honed the sport’s three phases while embracing a new community and team.

Her relationships also are quantifiable, something Multisport brass touts, too.

“How do our kids get to where they’re at?” program director Christina Boland said. “Because we’re a team, we train together and we really, really care about where these kids go.”

The daughter of Multisport founder Keith Dickson, Boland, 28, took over the operation and its elite-level team last summer, when Dickson opted to devote his schedule to his role at Multisport’s proudest offspring to date.

Geneva and Multisport alumni Kevin McDowell and Kelly Whitley are charter members of the Elite Triathlon Academy, a program Dickson coordinated with U.S. Olympic officials that allows students to attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on scholarship while training for Olympic berths.

Boland laughs that “the legend” goes that Dickson recruited a few neighborhood kids for this “weird sport” of triathlon in the early 2000s. These days, Multisport holds national cachet and draws from across the region.

A team member from Wisconsin trains independently but meets the group for races. John Lorenz, an Algonquin parent, has hired drivers to transport his children to and from practices, which often include morning and evening components to augment triathlon’s endurance component.

“When you practice as often as some of these elite teams are, it’s tough,” Lorenz said. “But the kids love what they do and they love the team, so it’s worth it. In the long run, and with the life lessons they learn, I look at it as an investment.”

Lorenz, an Ironman triathlete, would know about those. He also serves the program as a team administrator, charged with assessing finances and helping the promotion of the sport, especially from the youth level.

Developmental coach Chris Palmquist, of Geneva, oversaw about 10 athletes in the 7 to 15 age group two summers ago. Today, her group sits at 40, including two of her own children.

Palmquist’s daughter also is a strong swimmer and soccer player independent of triathlons, highlighting the program’s emphasis on outside interests. Whenever athletes want a brush with former Multisport greats, however, they’re not too far away.

Elite Triathlon Academy members still visit Multisport practices when their schedules allow. Last summer, coaches asked the elite group to lag behind the developmental kids before breaking off into a longer training run. Palmquist’s son, then 9, was among the initial lead group, and his mom could sense his instant surge in confidence.

“Every athlete is equally important, whether they’re vying to be the national champion or coming from the back of the pack,” Palmquist said. “They’re all pushing each other and working for each other and really cherishing that time.”

Less than two months remain before Multisport sends its contingent to the USA Triathlon Youth and Junior Nationals on Aug. 11 and 12 in West Chester, Ohio.

While coaches gush about Clinton and Park Ridge resident Gina Johnson possibly taking over the girls elite race that weekend, they also cannot overstate the importance of their workout partners and the children who look up to them.

Like swimming, biking and running, they all are connected. In Geneva, the bond still is growing and is over a decade strong.

“We have a pipeline of kids who actually like what they’re doing. They love the sport. They like it. They’re interested in it,” Boland said. “We have an avenue now that has been created by those before us that says, ‘Guys, you can go to school to do what you love – and get money for it. And oh, by the way, you can be a world champion, be the best in the world.’ And that’s pretty amazing, too.”

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