Early Talent Being Carefully Nurtured By Keikis’ Fathers
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.