Triathlon Makes An Itty-Bitty Deviation

The Charley Taylor Splash Pad in Grand Prairie, Texas, is an interactive water park located just west of the Charley Taylor Recreation Center. Since 1959, the recreation center has been a gathering point for many residents to participate in a variety of leisure activities. This year, the center offered the first-ever Itty-Bitty Triathlon designed especially for 3- to 5-year-olds. The “triathletes” who participated definitely made a splash in an event where the splash pad played a huge role in creating grand memories!

The triathlon included a swim (actually more of a dash) through the splash pad, a bike ride, and a run. The most unique aspect of the triathlon was the splash pad. For a group that knows how to experience splash pads by running around and through them, the kids were able to really show their “abilities” during this first challenge.

Studies have shown that splash pads target a child’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development. For this particular event, parents did not have to worry about the hazards of their Itty-Bitties in the swimming pool because parents and guardians knew their kids love splash pads! The Charley Taylor Splash Pad features age-specific play areas, including a water wall, ground sprays, play structures, a magic-touch water gun, spray cannons, and power geysers. There are six touch buttons that allow children to interact with various features.

On Your Mark

The goal of the Itty-Bitty Triathlon was to introduce children to a fitness program that would engage them in various challenges in combating childhood obesity. According to the latest census statistics, 8.5 percent of the city’s residents are under the age of five. And since Tiny Tot Programming is in high demand and the most popular class offering at the recreation center, it seemed a logical step to expand programming for this age group.

The fee to participate in the triathlon was $10, which included a T-shirt, medal, and snacks. Participants were required to bring their own bicycles and helmets. No additional costs were associated, as staff used existing center resources. There were additional costs in getting the splash pad operational for the season.

In the week leading up to the event, some kids chose to visit the race location to practice. On the day of the event, participants arrived with their biggest fans—parents, siblings, grandparents, and other relatives and fans to cheer them on as they took the course. The city’s television station and a reporter were on-site to tell the story of the pint-sized athletes.

Let’s Hear It For Teamwork

In Grand Prairie the winters are semi-short, so staff members quickly learned that March may have not been the best time of the year to host the event. It was a great idea to kick off spring programming; however, the last freeze of the year had not occurred! Between September and April, the splash pad is winterized, which includes draining all the water from the system. For this event, though, the aquatic staff was able to accommodate the recreation programming staff’s request to turn on some splash features. However, staff members cannot simply turn on only half the system, so they had to perform operations as if prepping to open for the entire season. This included closing about 20 valves and filling up the pit, which is where all the water drains and fills to prompt a pump to run. Once that work was completed, a pressure test was conducted to determine how long it took for the splash pad to “turn on,” as well as to make sure nothing was broken or squirting through a pump. After the pressure check, the pad had to be backwashed and cleaned, which took a day or two. Due to the great teamwork of the aquatic staff and the recreation programming staff, the system was operational with only a few minor issues.

Once water was in the system and with no anticipation of another freeze, staff members left the splash pad operational. Beginning a month before the event, aquatic staff flushed the water once or twice a week through the system to avoid its getting stagnant. One week before the event a final pressure test was conducted. Both staffs had to learn how to turn the splash pad features on and off. On the day of the event, aquatic staff members were on hand to operate the system and make sure the pH levels were correct.

Other than changing the month in which to host the event, the other popular request was to let the youth begin the race in age groups instead of all together. The 3-year-olds would begin before the 4-year-olds, and then the 5-year-olds would follow. What will definitely be repeated is the “opening ceremony,” where all athletes will stretch together and warm up to some of the their favorite songs. While the children loved their medals, they were also asking for trophies!

Mariana Espinoza is the Sr. Recreation Supervisor for the City of Grand Prairie, Texas Parks, Arts, and Recreation Department (