Each Friday afternoon for the next four weeks you’ll find Matt Stephenson at the outdoor pool at West Side Family YMCA, training with other special needs athletes for the fourth annual Heart of Summer Triathlon, which will be held there for special needs adults at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18.
The race will consist of a 200-yard swim in the West Side Y outdoor pool, three miles on a stationary bike and a half-mile run on the West Hills Greenway. Each racer will be accompanied by a volunteer to motivate and assist them as needed.
“I love everything about it,” Stephenson said. “It’s awesome and a great opportunity for the athletes. I really appreciate everything the Y does for us.”
He is preparing for his fourth triathlon and is working with race coordinator and certified personal trainer Donna Mostella. Nicknamed “the speed demon” during his ROTC days at Bearden High School, Stephenson said running is his favorite event and swimming is his most difficult.
“It’s hard for anyone, despite your abilities or disabilities, to be motivated to work out,” said Mostella. “And special needs adults can have significant physical challenges in staying healthy. But giving them a goal, giving them something to train for – like this triathlon – has made it so much more fun and rewarding to work toward a healthy lifestyle.”
So far, 32 athletes have signed up. Participation is free, whether or not athletes are Y members.
“These athletes show up, they swim 200 yards, they bike three miles, and they fly across that finish line after the run and people are speechless,” she said. “I love that. I love watching them prove people wrong and inspire others to get up and get moving.”
Stephenson is known for cheering on his fellow athletes.
“He is definitely known as a motivator,” said Bekah Grace, senior program director at the West Side Family Y. “He is constantly encouraging his fellow athletes to push harder, run faster and never give up. As other people are finishing up their run and swim, he is cheering them on, yelling full blast.”
“That’s because I’m proud of them,” Stephenson said. “I’m proud of what we do and I’m really excited for all of us.”
Runners and triathletes are needed to help with the athletes, along with other volunteers to award medals, pass out water and cheer. To volunteer, email Grace at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Y at 865-690-9622.
Sponsors are also needed:
- $25 provides gear for one athlete
- $50 provides one training session
- $75 provides two training sessions
- $100 provides three training sessions
- $1,000 helps sustain this triathlon for the future
To sponsor at athlete, visit: https://ymcaknoxville.org/knoxville-ymca/heart-summer-triathlon/.
Terry Shaw is staff writer for FMB Advertising.