By MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO

Fort Washington’s Tarus Nelson doesn’t shy away from challenges.  Despite injuries sustained while serving in the military, Nelson continues to push the physical limits of his body through training for and competing in ironman triathlon events to keep in shape.  However, he and his family’s passion to get kids off video games and into outdoor activities have merged into an organization that is bringing families together as they learn to train and prepare for one of the most grueling tests in sports.

Since 2011 the Prince George’s County based Strive 2 Tri organization has been training kids from diverse backgrounds to accomplish the task of finishing two of the three events that comprise a triathlon.  An ironman or Olympic triathlon features a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26-mile marathon in one day.   As Nelson’s passion for the sport grew he saw the void of exposure to African Americans and began striving to make it accessible to this untapped community.

Strive To Tri participants learning about swimming, fitness, healthy eating choices and other activities that contribute to healthy active lifestyles while training for the splash and dash events. (Courtesy Photo).

He created the splash and dash by eliminating the bicycle race from the competition because of the challenges associated with keeping a bike race safe on busy public streets.  Nelson created a training centered focus on swimming and running.  The goal is on training to finish the race and pressing through the exertion of pushing the body to its limits.  Kids between the ages of seven and 17 also learn the value of healthy eating choices and how what they put into their bodies and impact it will affect their performance.

The splash and dash races are one of a few youth multi-discipline races that are sanctioned by the USA Triathlon Association. Nelson tweaked the competitive model for kids by starting the race in a youth friendly pool followed by a short run.  These athletes train at no cost to them in camps for six weeks in underserved communities throughout the DMV. Campers receive free swim classes and for those who wish to compete their apparel is provided to them at no cost as well.

In seven years the residual affects of the organization have changed the lives of many people who have begun participating in the process.  The training of young African American swimmers has not only helped them overcome stereotypes associated with water sports, it has prepared them for summer employment opportunities. Many youngsters have taken to the aquatics training for exercise and recreation which has led to certification as lifeguards and given them the chance to work at pools throughout Prince George’s County once school ends.

“They start as campers then end up as employees and learn the value of being certified by a national organization,” Nelson told the AFRO. “It’s the gateway to possibility”.

Nelson and his wife Yolanda share the same passion for fitness and both are triathletes themselves.  In addition to spearheading this grassroots movement they train and work together helping to move the organization forward. Their training efforts seemed to have also brought families closer together also.  Many parents who have enrolled their children into this free program have become active, not to compete, but to join the consistent workout schedules with their kids and get into better shape.

“The kids in the program are the greatest motivators to get their parents in shape,” said Nelson.

Strive to Tri is one of the few youth programs in Maryland to unite both sides of the parkway. The Baltimore Ravens provided financial support through the NFL’s Play 60 initiative in 2015 while MGM National Resorts is also a partner.  The first of this year’s local races is June 2 at the Whitehall Pool and Tennis Club in Bowie.