At Morningside Elementary, the triathlon team is the next big hit

For the kids, it’s worth waking up for 7:15 a.m. practices twice a week
Cat Feeney, Lauren Anthony, and Emily Morris race through the finish line of the triathlon.

Photograph by Emily Sullivan

Niccole Burton’s two daughters have dabbled in everything from dance to basketball to robotics. They’ve tried it all at Morningside Elementary School, and for no small cost—for one semester last year, the Burton family paid the school $750 for extracurricular programs.

Nadia Burton, 7

Photograph by Emily Sullivan

A runner and swimmer, Burton was thrilled when her daughters Nadia, 7, and Sienna, 9, joined Morningside’s new triathlon team—especially when Nadia won first place last year in her six-and-under age group. Burton says the triathlon team, which in the spring had 57 members from kindergarten through fifth grade, has been an exciting activity that allows her daughters to find camaraderie with their schoolmates. The group operates mostly independently from the school; and while team members cover bicycle and race costs, there are no membership fees.

Aly Nussear, a Morningside physical education teacher, started the team last year. She aims to have 65 participants this fall. After only one practice, ten kids competed in the school year’s first triathlon—a 75-meter swim, 4-mile bike ride, and 0.6-mile run—on August 5 in East Cobb County.

Darren Jeckewicz, Dru Jeckewicz, Lauren Anthony, coach Aly Nussear, Emily Morris, and Katharine Dziuma

Photograph by Matt Anthony

“The kids love being a part of the team,” says Nussear, who’s invested hours in fundraising to support her students, providing Lock Laces (no-tie shoelaces), race belts, and transition mats for practices. The Morningside Foundation granted Nussear about $2,000 to get certified as a USA Triathlon coach, she says, and parents have willingly chipped in for equipment and other gear.

Dave Dziuma’s daughter Katharine, 8, joined the team last year. She’s since traded her ice-cream-cone-decorated bike for one with advanced gears. Likewise, Dianne Jeckewicz, who has three kids on Nussear’s team, has observed a transformation in her 11-year-old son Darrin, who used to shy away from competition. Triathlons have also let Jeckewicz engage more with her kids, cheering them on during races and helping them transition from swimming to biking to running. Nussear says the ease, and necessity, of parent involvement is one of the things that makes triathlons unique among other sporting events, “where you [just] watch stuff happen.”

Cat Feeney races in the triathlon.

Photograph by Matt Anthony

Cat Feeney and Sienna Burton run to the finish line.

Photograph by Matt Anthony

Nussear herself is what makes this particular team unique, says Morningside principal Audrey Sofianos. Nussear, who started competing in triathlons herself about three years ago, begins her practices promptly at 7:15 a.m. twice per week. Since the school has no track or swimming pool, she uses these mornings to drill swim skills with scooters and improvises with other equipment for all sorts of activities. Nine-year-old Emily Morris says she enjoys going to practice with Coach Nussear, and that it’s what wakes her up—instead of slumping over a bowl of cold cereal. When asked if such early morning workouts were exhausting, Morris scrunches her face and shakes her head. “You get used to it,” she says.

Lauren Anthony and Emily Morris hug at the pool.

Photograph by Emily Sullivan