The growth in the sport of triathlons has, over the years, attracted athletes of all ages, of all shapes and sizes.
Still, devoted 10-year-olds are something of a rare occurrence. Isabella Mastroianni doesn’t mind being unique.
Competing in triathlons for the past four years while maintaining her regular training schedule as a member of Nickel City Aquatics has been a challenge, but a challenge the youngest of two children in the family embraces.
“During a March Break, (coach) Buddy (Green) did a swim camp,” Isabella explained. “But there was a Saturday thing that was swimming, biking and running. I got to do it every Saturday and it was a lot of fun. I like training for all three — it lets me keep being athletic.”
Green is no stranger to the triathlon scene. An accomplished swimmer in his youth, the local athlete has competed on both the national and international level before crossing over to working with other triathletes, offering coaching services to both serious and casual competitors.
He acknowledged finding pre-adolescent boys and girls with a passion for triathlon is not terribly common.
“We’re seeing the sport grow at a younger age now, but you kind of see athletes come and go,” Green said. “They usually come from one of the three backgrounds and want to try it, but are still pretty unsure of what they want to do, and often turn back to the one sport they may be coming from already.
“Isabella has really been gung-ho about the whole triathlon thing and taking it seriously.”
A member of the Triathlon Ontario LTAD (Long-Term Athlete Development) committee, Green knows his focus must be on maintaining perspective when it comes to dealing with such a young athlete.
“As a coach, you try and keep it fun,” he said. “You’re getting them to work, but having fun as they’re working. And not pushing, trying to keep it light. It’s not what they do today or tomorrow that is going to make or break a career down the road.”
That is exactly the type of approach that resonates with Isabella.
“His practices are tough, but nice, and I really like that,” she said.
While maintaining the fun is critical, Isabella has enjoyed some success to date, capturing first place in her age group in three different races and often finishing ahead of the vast majority of same-aged boys.
“In swimming alone, she’s qualifying for provincials in almost all strokes,” Green said. “She’s very well rounded, in that sense. It almost seems that anything she is doing, she’s excelling at right now.”
In fact, her love of triathlons is equal to or greater than her love of soccer, the other athletic pastime that keeps the active youngster busy on a year-round basis.
Yet, there is something special about the triathlon and Isabella often finds herself reliving memorable races.
“I loved the St. Joseph Island race,” Isabella said, her face lighting up. “There were barely any hills for the bike and the way the course was set out was great.”
Just beginning to focus on improving her transitions during racing, Isabella is still tackling the age-specific shorter versions of the triathlon, typically swimming 200 metres, biking five kilometres and running two kilometres.
“If the five-kilometre bike has lots of hills, then it can get tiring,” she stated. “Other than that, it’s pretty easy.”
Gradually, Green will raise the bar.
“The accomplishments she has had tend to fuel the fire,” he said. “But she’s really enjoying it and that’s the main focus right now.”
With the 2013 competitive triathlon season drawing to a close, Isabella will spend the winter mixing in training with her Lady Lightning soccer team.
Randy Pascal is the founder of SudburySports.com and a contributing sports writer for Northern Life.