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Feature
USA Triathlon Foundation Grant Recipient Spotlight: Tri-Masters
GUIDING YOUTH IN CHICAGO
By Nick Koppin
Triathlon is more than just a sport or fun way to stay active for the 2,500 innercity kids who have participated in Tri-Masters Chicago over the last 25 years. It’s instilled lifelong values and given them tools to face adversity, thanks to the vision of program founder Bernard Lyles.
When Lyles was introduced to the sport in the early 1980s, he was often the only minority athlete at the start line. Lyles admits he was out of his element at times, but the multisport community embraced him and led him to friendships that would change his life and the lives of at-risk youth in Chicago. One of those friendships was with Alvin Hartley, a pioneer in the endurance space, who created the first African-American and Latino triathlon club in the United States, called Tri-Masters.


Lyles was determined to start a Chicago chapter and grow minority involvement in the sport, despite not having access to facilities or money to invest in the program. While his dreams seemed beyond reach at first, others came alongside him in 1992 to make the program a reality. With the support of avid runner and then Chicago State University President Dr. Dolores Cross and an initial start-up grant from the Chicago Community Trust, Lyles founded the Tri-Masters Youth Sports Initiative Program at Chicago State University.


At its inception, Tri-Masters Chicago guided 30 youth athletes to the finish line of their first triathlon. They utilized facilities with an indoor track and swimming pool at Chicago State and purchased 10 bikes for training.


Today, the summer triathlon program has evolved but continues to teach kids ages 6-14 about physical fitness, nutritional awareness and life skills.


“In our community, there is so much negativity, violence and drug activity. It’s what the kids learn early on,” said Lyles, who has used the program to provide practical education on alcohol and drug prevention, develop leadership abilities, practice multicultural communication and reduce youth obesity through physical activity.


46 | USA TRIATHLON | WINTER 2018

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