Members of the Xtreme Kids Tri-Team are (front row, from left) Riley Gallagher, Madi Bowen, Ryan Hughes, Karly Owen, Logan Lewis; (middle row) Hallie Amat, Cade Thompson, Parker Mizelle, Caleb Parades-Brown, Brandon Ellington, Antonio Parades-Brown, Austin Hughes; and (back row) Hannah Ellington, Hannah Wilder, Dane Mohn, Sean Powers, Kaitlyn Owen, Malia Ellington and Taylor Hughes. Photo courtesy of Linda Gallagher

When 13-year-old Taylor Hughes tells people she’s a triathlete, she often gets the same response.

“What’s that?”

“That” is what makes Hughes, her two brothers and a few dozen other young area athletes versatile, fit competitors. The “tri” refers to the three sports in which they compete during triathlons – swimming, biking and running.

One right after the other.

“When I tell them all about it, they seem pretty impressed,” Hughes said.

She is part of the Xtreme Kids Tri-Team, a new squad of local triathletes ages 7 to 14 who live in Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Denver.

The team, formed by Linda and Ed Gallagher in January, includes youths who completed their first triathlon this year and others who’ve competed in more than 30 triathlons.

The Xtreme Kids compete in nearby triathlons and have members who have traveled to Orlando, Fla., and Raleigh this year to compete in the IronKids Triathlon Series.

Twelve Xtreme Kids have qualified for the IronKids National Championship in Des Moines, Iowa, in September.

Linda Gallagher, who lives in Huntersville, said she’s trying to raise awareness for the team and promote the sport to other kids.

Her interest began when her daughter, Riley, entered a kids’ triathlon at age 7. Linda said Riley was nervous, and “we didn’t know what to expect.”

Riley, who had dabbled in soccer, finished third in her debut and was hooked. She turns 11 in November and is a veteran of 30 triathlons.

What the Gallaghers noticed as Riley went to various events was that many of the same families were popping up.

“We knew all the (area) families, and we hung out as a team, even though we were there individually,” she said. “We thought, `Wouldn’t it be great for the kids to have a team, because there are so many teams for adults.”

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Boom. The Xtreme Kids were born.

Linda Gallagher handles the administrative duties. Two coaches – Sarah Matchett and Kathy Goody – are paid by parents individually, based on their children’s workout schedule. There is a small fee ($50) for a child to join the team. There are a couple of small sponsors, and Gallagher would love to snag more sponsors and donations.

For the meets and practices, which can be logistical challenges for families, it helps that everyone eagerly pitches in.

Eric Hughes, a Denver resident whose kids Taylor (13), Austin (12) and Ryan (7) are on the team, said parents pitch in to plan for team dinners, snacks, giving someone a ride who may need it, sharing supplies (bike, swimming, water, etc.).

“The camaraderie, more than anything, is what’s best about this team,” he said. “For the kids, it takes a lot of discipline, but if you’re sweating with your friends during a workout, it makes it more rewarding. I think competing as a triathlete opens their eyes to a non-mainstream sport. It gives them athletic training that is applicable to all sports.”

His son, Austin, agrees.

“I like how the workouts are tough, but you know you’re getting stronger,” Austin said. “When you can do it with other people, it’s more interactive.”

Austin and his sister, Taylor, are swimmers, so that part of being a triathlete came easily. Austin said he had biked “for fun” and had to develop as a runner. Taylor said she feels she has an advantage over competitors who aren’t strong swimmers. She’s improved as a runner but said biking is the hardest phase.

“I like competing,” Taylor said. “I have a lot of friends on the team, and we’re pretty tight. It’s easier to do more training when there are more people helping you work.”

The triathlon distances differ depending on the age group and the event. In the IronKids events, intermediate competitors (ages 9 to 11) swim 150 yards, bike four miles and run one mile. Those distances are doubled for senior competitors (usually ages 12 to 14), challenging them with a 300-yard swim, eight-mile bike ride and two-mile run.

But even young legs get tired.

“It can get to the point where you’re really exhausted,” Taylor Hughes said. “In a race, you might say, `Gosh, this is really hard.’ But the feeling afterward, when you’ve finished, is awesome.”

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Gallagher said the enjoyment is widespread.

“The kids have fun, the parents have fun, too,” she said. “The parents are great, they help coordinate dinners the night before (races), hotel reservations – just anything that the team needs. I think for a first-year team, we’ve done well.”