Early Tal­ent Be­ing Care­fully Nur­tured By Keikis’ Fathers

MidWeek Islander (Central Oahu) - - Central Oahu Sports - By JACK DANILEWICZ

The term “stu­dent ath­lete” is most of­ten used in col­lege, but it’s a la­bel that suits 10-year-old Mililani res­i­dent Rachel Um­phress just fine.

“She’s a busy lit­tle girl,” said her fa­ther, Val.“She’s not short on in­ter­ests — we’re just try­ing to keep it all fun. She likes to read and write, she takes pi­ano, sings in the choir at school, she’s a church­goer, and she’s al­ready been ask­ing me about learn­ing the vi­o­lin.”

But it’s Rachel’s ath­letic prow­ess that’s cre­ated a stir lately. Last month shewent to the Na­tional Triathlon Cham­pi­onships in Colorado Springs, fin­ish­ing sixth over­all for ages 9-10. It is be­lieved to be the high­est fin­ish to date for Hawaii in a na­tional triathlon cham­pi­onship.

Fam­ily friend Jakob De­wald was equally im­pres­sive in Colorado, plac­ing 12th in the 11-12 divi­sion. A five-time Hawaii state cham­pion as well, De­wald is a Mililani Mid­dle School hon­ors stu­dent.

For both fam­i­lies, keep­ing their chil­dren’s heady ath­letic ex­ploits in per­spec­tive is as im­por­tant as their train­ing in swim­ming, bi­cy­cling and run­ning.

“When he doesn’t want to train, we don’t force him,” said Jakob’s fa­ther, Stephen.“He’s pretty self-driven him­self. We try to keep it fun. At this point, he needs to en­joy it.”

Train­ing is a fam­ily event for the De­walds. Stephen has com­peted in triathlons for the last 15 years and teaches swim­ming in Wahi­awa. Jakob’s mother Lisa runs the Honolulu Marathon an­nu­ally, while older broth­ers Stephen and Lind­say were in triathlons when younger.

“It’s been great for us. It’s def­i­nitely kept us to­gether as a fam­ily,” Stephen said.“Ev­ery one of us has our own lit­tle niche. We’ve spent a lot of qual­ity time to­gether.”

Jakob’s best event is run­ning. When he was 3, he used to cry when his fa­ther would go out and train without him. “He’d get to the point where he’d throw a fit, so I used to let him ride the bike (along­side). Run­ning is def­i­nitely his strong suit.”

He ran his first triathlon at age 5, hav­ing not trained at all. “We snuck him in there, and he loved it,” said his dad.

Added Jakob:“The race was

pretty hard, but I just try hard to con­cen­trate on my run­ning. I re­ally like do­ing it.”

Like Jakob, Rachel would bi­cy­cle along­side her fa­ther on his train­ing runs.

“I thought that (rid­ing the bike) would be a good out­let for her since she wasn’t fast enough to keep up on foot yet,” Val re­called. “When we started to sign her up (for races), she be­gan to do pretty well, and that re­in­forced it for her. She has high en­ergy and a high tol­er­ance for pain — more than I.”

“I came to love it,” said Rachel, who is on the shy side. “I like com­pet­ing with the other kids.”

In writ­ing about her ex­pe­ri­ence at the na­tion­als, she ad­mit­ted to be­ing ner­vous: “Com­peti­tors from all over the U.S. at­tended the event. Why wouldn’t I be ner­vous? See­ing the course made me feel bet­ter, but I found out on Day One that it wasn’t. I had to swim 100 me­ters in a lake, ride three miles on a bike and run six-tenths of a mile.”

A sports psy­chol­o­gist, Val Um­phress is care­ful to en­sure that she keeps her train­ing in per­spec­tive, since he’s han­dled many burned-out ath­letes.

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