WEST CHESTER, Ohio — Racing action at the 2021 Zone3 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Nationals wrapped up Sunday at Voice of America Park as the MMTT Sammy’s Gold squad won the Mixed Relay event and 7-12-year-old triathletes and paratriathletes participated in the age group races.
The exciting weekend of racing saw more than 1,000 youth athletes ages 7-19 travel to and race at Voice of America Park, as West Chester hosted Youth & Junior Nationals for the ninth year overall, returning for the first time since 2019 after the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19.
This weekend’s races were all held with COVID-19 safety measures in place according to USA Triathlon’s Safe Return to Multisport initiative.
The Mixed Relay has been contested as part of Youth & Junior Nationals for 11 years overall. Each team is comprised of four athletes, two male and two female. Each competitor covers a 250-meter swim, 5-kilometer bike and 1.2-kilometer run before tagging off to the next teammate, with the fastest combined time winning the race.
The fast-paced, spectator-friendly format debuted as an Olympic medal event Saturday morning in Tokyo at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, with the U.S. team of Katie Zaferes, Kevin McDowell, Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson winning the silver medal.
On Sunday in West Chester, the MMTT Sammy’s Gold team, made up of Naomi Ruff (West Chicago, Ill.), Ben DeWeerdt (Hoffman Estates, Ill.), Clara James-Heer (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and Braxton Bokos (Oak Brook, Ill.), covered the course in a combined time of 1 hour, 10 minutes, 44 seconds. The Alpha1 squad of Faith Dasso (New Braunfels, Texas), Nicholas Holmes (Glendale, Wis.), Clare Ann Dasso (New Braunfels, Texas) and Reese Vannerson (Sugar Land, Texas) finished 6 seconds behind, in 1:10:50.
Ruff, who won Saturday’s women’s junior elite title, kicked things off for MMTT Sammy’s Gold, finishing the first leg in 18:19, 6 seconds behind Faith Dasso.
Alpha1 extended its lead as Holmes completed his leg in 16:30, nearly a minute faster than DeWeerdt of Sammy’s Gold (17:26).
Sammy’s Gold stormed back in the final two legs, however, as James-Heer (18:17) and Bokos (16:47) were able to chase down Clare Anne Dasso (19:00) and Vannerson (17:12) to earn the squad the narrow victory and national championship.
For DeWeerdt, nothing compares to the team camaraderie of the Mixed Relay.
“You’re all cheering on each other. It’s awesome, being able to be out there running around and cheering on the rest of your team and getting them going,” DeWeerdt said. “It’s nothing like individual events.”
Finishing third on the podium in the Mixed Relay was the EF Project Podium Slap Compos team, comprised of Alexandra Poole (Farmington, Conn.), Keller Norland (Tempe, Ariz.), Emily Knopfle (Ocoee, Fla.) and Drew Shellenberger (Tempe, Ariz.), clocking a time of 1:11:19.
The youth age group races for competitors ages 7-12 also took place on Sunday. Ages 7-10 raced a 100m swim, 5k bike and 1k run, while 11- to 12-year-olds raced a 200m swim, 10k bike and 2k run. Youth paratriathletes also competed, taking on the same course as the 11-12 age group.
New this year, Youth & Junior Nationals implemented several changes to align with the American Development Model (ADM), a concerted effort between the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and its sport National Governing Bodies to apply long-term athlete development principles in a way that resonates with the culture of sport in the United States. The ADM aims to create early positive experiences for youth athletes across all sports by promoting sustained sport participation.
The adjustments to Youth & Junior Nationals included National Champion titles only being awarded to athletes ages 13-18. Athletes aged 7-12 received placement awards, five places deep. In the PC Open division, the top male and female finishers overall earned National Champion titles.
Magnolia Peters (Fort Wayne, In.) earned the win in the girls’ paratriathlon division, crossing the finish line alongside her guide, Zachary Baker (Harmony, Pa.) in 38:30.
Kitterman (Bethel Park, Pa.) earned the win in the boys’ paratriathlon division. Racing alongside guide Hailey Poe (Bridgeville, Pa.), the duo crossed the line in 33:58.
“I’m probably most proud of the run today. I feel like I kicked it more than I usually can. I had a lot of fun out here today,” said Kitterman, who praised the guiding and communication by Poe.
“We definitely had to have good communication. That was on me. I just had to make sure I was communicating clearly and that we could hit all of our technical things right,” Poe said.
Kitterman’s goal is to someday compete in the Paralympics. His idol is fellow visually impaired triathlete, Kyle Coon, a 2020 U.S. Paralympic Triathlon Team member who will compete in the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 28.
“He’s my mentor, he’s the guy I look up to the most in the sport. He’s the one I ultimately want to be,” Kitterman said.
For more information on the Zone3 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Nationals, visit usatriathlon.org/yjn2021 or download the digital event program.
2021 Zone3 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Nationals
Mixed Relay: 4x250m swim, 5k draft-legal bike, 1.2k run
Age-Group 7-10: 100m swim, 5k bike, 1k run
Age-Group 11-12: 200m swim, 10k bike, 2k run
Paratriathlon: 200m swim, 10k bike, 2k run
1. MMTT Sammy’s Gold — Naomi Ruff (West Chicago, Ill.), Ben DeWeerdt (Hoffman Estates, Ill.), Clara James-Heer (Grand Rapids, Mich.), Braxton Bokos (Oak Brook, Ill.), 1:10:44
2. Alpha1 — Faith Dasso (New Braunfels, Texas), Nicholas Holmes (Glendale, Wis.), Clare Ann Dasso (New Braunfels, Texas), Reese Vannerson (Sugar Land, Texas), 1:10:50
3. EF Project Podium Slap Compos — Alexandra Poole (Farmington, Conn.), Keller Norland (Tempe, Ariz.), Emily Knopfle (Ocoee, Fla.), Drew Shellenberger (Tempe, Ariz.) 1:11:19
Paratriathlon Open Division
Male winner: Brock Kitterman (Bethel Park, Pa.) and guide Hailey Poe (Bridgeville, Pa.) 33:58
Female winner: Magnolia Peters (Fort Wayne, In.) and guide Zachary Baker (Harmony, Pa.) 38:30
Age Group 7-10
Male winner: Keegan Reilly (Sioux Falls, S.D.) 23:49
Female winner: Helen Munkittrick (St. Petersburg, Fla.) 23:07
Male winner: Aaron Westrip (Bradenton, Fla.) 22:00
Female winner: Reesemae Kruse (Wayne, Ill.) 21:32
Male winner: Noah McKillop (Elmhurst, Ill.) 20:07
Female winner: Lila Knutson (Sioux Falls, S.D.) 20:19
Male winner: Austin Courson (Jacksonville, Fla.) 18:36
Female winner: Evelyn Degeest (Tea, S.D.) 19:56
Age Group 11-12
Male winner: Joseph McKillop (Elmhurst, Ill.) 32:22
Female winner: Ellie Harlow (Glen Allen, Va.) 33:12
Male winner: Ethan Courrson (Jacksonville, Fla.) 30:09
Female winner: Alex Palekar (Parkland, Fla.) 31:31
USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the National Governing Body for triathlon, as well as duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, off-road triathlon and paratriathlon in the United States. Founded in 1982, USA Triathlon sanctions more than 4,000 events and connects with more than 400,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work at the grassroots level with athletes, coaches, and race directors — as well as the USA Triathlon Foundation — USA Triathlon provides leadership and support to elite athletes competing at international events, including World Triathlon Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of World Triathlon and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).