Baton Rouge’s Abram, Faith and Ella Kate Johnston are naturally competitive.
And while it’s taken a lot of hard work for the trio to get to West Chester, Ohio, for the 2016 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships this weekend, much of the siblings’ success comes from genetics.
Their grandmother, Jan Ripple, a former elite triathlete, finished fourth at the 1992 Las Vegas ITU World Cup and 10th at the 1991 World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia. Their mother, Shelly, was a four-time NCAA champion swimmer for Stanford and has since taken up triathlon.
These accomplishments inspired the younger generation to not only pursue the sport but also strive for the same level of success. Both Faith and Ella Kate finished first in their age group at IRONKIDS Des Moines in 2015 while Abram earned the silver medal.
“They never had to do a certain sport,” Shelly said. “It just so happened that we introduced them to the sport of triathlon and they all loved it. Their grandmother is an amazing source of inspiration to them. They are always asking about things she did in her career.”
It’s a family affair, and for Faith, 8, having her brother and sister compete alongside her helps her keep going.
“When they are cheering me on, it makes me want to push harder,” she said.
The support continues even when they’re out on the racecourse together. At a race in New Orleans, Faith was a heat ahead of Abram, 10, but still took the time to shout some encouragement when she passed him going the other direction on the run.
“All of them really love each other,” Shelly said. “[Faith] was the lead runner and when she got to the turnaround, Abram was coming out on the run. She looked over and screamed ‘Go Abram!’”
They may all be Johnstons competing under the legacy of Ripple, but Ripple sees a bit of herself in all of them and each kid brings something different to the table.
“[I like] the swim because I like to get the race started,” Ella Kate, 7, said. Her mother describes her as tough, confident and can take a lot of pain.
Abram, on the other hand, is methodical, according to his mother. He stays calm and analyzes what he needs to do before the start. Then there’s Faith who is “a true racehorse.” But sometimes that leads to funny accidents.
“One time, I went the wrong way on my run and went way too far,” she said.
But she’s used it as a learning experience and has improved since that mishap.
“The moment the gun goes off she races with fierce intensity from start to finish and never looks back,” Shelly said.
Come Saturday and the start of the national championships, the Johnstons aren’t necessarily looking for gold or the fastest times in the field. They’re simply hoping to make small improvements that will help in the long run.
Faith’s main goal is to improve her run and speed in her transitions. Abram hopes to have a better swim split and spot better in the water. And Ella Kate just wants to go out there, have fun and never give up.
And while it’s nice to win medals and have success at the things you do, Ripple has one main message for her grandchildren.
“I am excited for them that they continue to learn life's lessons through the sport,” she said. “I hope they always dream big, believe that dreams can come true and that they control their own destiny.”
Athletes will compete for national titles at the 2016 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships in West Chester, Ohio, on July 30-31. For more event coverage, visit usatriathlon.org/usatjr16coverage.