GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Moanalua High senior Kalen Darling is entered in tomorrow's International Triathlon Union World Championships.
Every day is a triathlon for local teens
Kalen Darling and Kirsten Swanson have been training constantly for tomorrow's ITU race
They are teens always on the go, trying to make use of every precious minute of their day and pushing their bodies to the limit.
Kalen Darling, a senior at Moanalua High School, and Kirsten Swanson, a senior at ASSETS School, are the youngest competitors in tomorrow's International Triathlon Union World Championships.
The 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and 10-kilometer run starts at 6 a.m. at Queen's Beach and finishes at Kapiolani Park. There are more than 2,000 entrants from 50 countries, including more than 40 from Hawaii.
The demands of competing in a sport that requires athletes to compete in three different disciplines have allowed these two to find creative ways to accomplish their training goals while meeting all the other demands of growing up.
"We always tell him he has to keep his grades up, has to get his Eagle Scout, or we don't allow it (triathlons)," Tiffany Darling, mother of Kalen, said about their rules. "He doesn't get to do frivolous things. He used to ask, but doesn't anymore. He's either eating and doing homework, or eating and training.
"He tries to incorporate and use his time wisely."
The commitment and time management have allowed both teens to excel in competitions and in school. Together, they have competed in more than a dozen triathlons, claimed their age divisions in numerous races and kept up with seasoned competitors twice as old.
A typical day for Darling and Swanson starts as early as 5 a.m. Swanson goes to school, trains in the afternoon and doesn't get home until the evening. On a recent evening, after a day of rain, her bike was waiting to be washed after her homework was completed.
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ASSETS School senior Kirsten Swanson puts in about 3 hours of triathlon training a day, much of it around Kapiolani Park.
An "A" student, Swanson is also student council president and plays water polo for Pac-Five.
"She stays so focused on the multiple tracks of what's important," Mike Swanson, Kirsten's father, said.
Darling gets up early and goes swimming before going to class. After class ends, he goes home for a quick snack, then out for a 1- or 2-hour bike ride. Then he tackles the hills of Kapalama Heights as he runs from his house near the airport to his swim club's practices at Kamehameha. He trains with his cross-country team at Moanalua if time permits and usually doesn't make it home until 8 p.m.
Also an "A" student, Darling can be found at the library during his lunch hour doing his homework or trying to get some studying done before swim practice.
It's hard trying to balance it all, but he knows if he doesn't make the grade, his parents won't let him do triathlons.
"I can't fool around, can't watch TV and can't hang out with friends," Darling said. "I sacrifice all that for training."
"I have friends who encourage and look up to me because I'm doing triathlons and still keeping my grades high and trying to find time to hang out. But they understand and respect the fact that I'm serious about my future and triathlons."
Both teens come from extensive swimming backgrounds and got into triathlons several years ago. Swanson began with Try Fitness, an all-women's triathlon group led by KC Carlberg. Swanson said the group is really supportive. She did her first triathlon, the Na Wahine Sprint Triathlon, at age 14.
"I got pretty addicted to it," Swanson said. "It was super fun to be able to go across the finish line and go, 'Oh wow, I did it. I actually did a triathlon.'"
Darling got started at 12 when he did a relay with friends. After watching the Ironman on TV, he was hooked.
"It was exhilarating to me at the time," Darling recalled of the first triathlon he did on the North Shore. "It was such a big accomplishment to finish the triathlon. It was one of the greatest feelings I ever had. It was a great feeling to finish the swim, bike and run all in one piece."
His parents were a bit apprehensive about his first triathlon, but figured their son would get it out of his system after the first race.
"Boy was I wrong," Tiffany said. "He had this bug in him and he wanted to do it for the rest of his life."
With college a year away, both teens see triathlons somewhere in the mix. One of the schools Swanson is checking out in Colorado has a triathlon team. It's either that or several other schools that offer equestrian studies, physical therapy or sports medicine.
Darling, who's eyeing the Air Force Academy, hopes the success he has found will open new doors -- competing in international events or getting picked up for a national team.
At April's JAL Honolulu Triathlon, Darling won his age division by 14 minutes, despite having a 103-degree fever. His time of 2 hours, 16 minutes and 19 seconds placed him 22nd overall.
"It's an unreal experience being able to have the honor to race with these guys," Darling said. "It's just a mind-boggling experience for me. It's probably going to be the great athletic moment of my life to see these people race, race with them and make new friends."
Swanson also won her age division at the JAL Honolulu Triathlon, the qualifying event for tomorrow's race. She hopes to finish between 2:30 and 2:35, some 20 minutes faster than her time in April. To do so, she has focused on improving her running.
"I have a personal training coach and her background is running," Swanson said. "She's been helping me and I've gotten a lot better and faster."
When Darling and Swanson take to the road on Sunday, yelling from the top of their lungs on the side will be their families, whose support has helped them make it this far in their young athletic careers.
"My coach, my parents, even my little brother gets into it," Swanson said. "Recently, my mom ordered matching shirts that says, 'Kirsten support team.' They wake up super early in the morning for races, they're shouting on the sidelines. It's really fun."
"There's a tremendous sense of pride and we're thankful for the blessing to having the opportunity to experience it as a parent," Kirsten's father, Mike, said.