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Taranaki kids get a taste of triathlon world

When the New Plymouth ITU Triathlon World Cup comes to town Taranaki school students are introduced to much more than sport.

Shanelle Barrett, Event Director of the international race, says the 2019 effort became a tri-festival including the WIL Sport NZ School’s Triathlon Championships and a fun run supporting the Mellowpuff Charitable Trust.

The TSB Community Trust helped fund infrastructure around the festival and in return spectators got to watch the international event for free in their backyard.

“We do a lot of school visits, so it’s all about community reach,” she says. “We take elite athletes and highly qualified international staff into schools throughout Taranaki each year, with 15 schools being engaged with in 2019.”

In the secondary schools, there was a focus on high-level goal setting, but youngsters also learnt that running an international event involved much more than sport.

“We took a staff member who’s a specialist in social media; many students don’t realise you can have a job doing social media,” Shanelle says.

“You have to be an elite athlete to take part in the World Cup event, but you can be involved in so many ways,” she says, listing social media, journalism, officiating and event management as other possibilities.

In the World Cup race held in stunning weather on March 31, 65 men and 49 women competed on a blue-carpet course of international standard, which was streamed live for a global audience.

That’s one of the reasons why the course was changed in 2018, Shanelle says.

The new, more strenuous route highlights iconic imagery including Paritutu, the Sugar Loaf Islands, Tasman Sea and Mt Taranaki – when the mounga isn’t hidden behind clouds.

“New Zealand triathletes love a tough course, so we want them to succeed,” Shanelle says.

However, the men’s race was won by Australia’s Luke Willian and Italy’s Angelica Olmo took out the women’s title.

Not only were triathlon fans able to watch the elites compete, they could also follow the 650 school championship entrants, ranging from Year 7 to Year 13.

“We live-streamed the schools’ event, which is the first time ever for the schools triathlon which was also the first time the national championship event was held in New Plymouth. We had grandparents from England, who were watching the live streaming, saying how exciting it was to see their grandchildren competing.”

Young triathletes from Northland right down to Invercargill flocked to New Plymouth to compete on the blue-carpet course. With them came parents and other family members, which meant a lot of bed nights for accommodation providers.

They had to register on Thursday for the Friday and Saturday races, and many stayed on to Sunday to watch the World Cup.

“After the success of the festival in 2019 we will always hold a participation event around the Triathlon World Cup event,” Shanelle says.

And the Mellowpuff fun run will be held again.

The Mellowpuff Charity supports Taranaki children aged under 19, who have endured some type of adversity. Its “Believe and You Will Achieve’’ motto is an apt message for everyone, but particularly elite and up-and-coming triathletes.