“Yeah, my friends think I’m crazy. One of my friends calls me ‘weird’ because I exercise so much,” says Moultrie’s Case Gregory, 11, an aspiring triathlete who attends Willie Williams Middle School. Gregory discovered triathlons this year after spending several years swimming competitively and running at a fairly high level. When family friends who are triathletes realized what the youngster was doing, they encouraged his parents to buy Gregory a bike and let him get started in the sport. They obliged, Gregory entered his first triathlon, and was instantly hooked.
A triathlon takes time. If you’re going to be good, you have to train every day – sometimes multiple times per day. And if you’re training that much, you’ve got to eat. It truly is a lifestyle as much as it is a sport. And that’s just fine with Case Gregory. “He’s very dedicated and driven. He wakes himself up to work out. He has a Garmin watch that he uses to track his miles. He follows a strict diet – it’s been over a year since he has had a Coke. We have to watch his calories for him. At one time, he was training too much and not eating enough. He’s unlike any kid I’ve ever seen with regard to diet,” says his father, Brad Gregory. The younger Gregory abstains from candy, white bread, sweet tea, and fried foods. He drinks water, milk, and a few juices. “It wasn’t easy at first but now it is. I feel better, and I’m getting better nutrients,” he says.
So how much does Gregory do each week? He runs between 12 and 16 miles per week. These days, he does most of his running at cross country practice. He swims two miles per session, four times per week. And whenever he can fit one in, he goes for a bike ride. Of the three sports, Gregory’s passions are swimming and running. The bike is just the part of the triathlon that moves him from swimming to running. “The bike is the scariest for me. You’re out there by yourself. You just put your head down, watch the road, and hope you get back,” he says.
This summer, Gregory completed three triathlons, all of which fall into the sprint triathlon category. Though they’re called sprints, they aren’t really sprints at all. The length of sprint triathlons varies, but most feature swims of 400-600 yards, bike rides in the range of 10-15 miles, and 5K runs. Elites finish these in the neighborhood of an hour, mere mortals in 70-90 minutes or more. Despite their relative short length (compared to half-Ironman and Ironman races), they are still grueling suffer-fests that reward pacing, attention to detail, and careful race execution. That can be difficult for an adult competitor; for a pre-teen, it’s almost mind-boggling.
Gregory, however, has proven, time and time again, that he is up to the task. His first race was the Jax Triathlon Series Race #1 in Fernandina Beach, Fla. The swim was in the ocean (400 yards), the 16-mile bike ride on the heavily-traveled (and open to traffic) A1A, and the three-mile run on the relatively quiet roads of Fort Clinch State Park. Gregory finished the race in 1:36:18, posting the third-fastest swim in his age group and the fastest run (22:12), and ultimately placing second in his age group. And that’s after crashing on the bike. After he fell, he hopped back up, kept riding, and finished the race on the age-group podium.
Gregory’s next race came on July 4th in Marianna, Fla., at the Freedom Springs Triathlon. The race featured a 400-yard swim, 10-mile bike ride, and a 5K run. This was Gregory’s favorite because the swim, which took place in a natural spring, was very cold. He finished third in his age group in 1:14:45. And this time, he managed to keep the rubber side down on the bike. Gregory trained for another six or seven weeks before entering his third race of the summer, the Georgia Veterans Triathlon in Cordele. This race was the most difficult of the three he did – the bike ride, while not the longest at 13.6 miles, was hilly and technical, much more so than the pancake-flat 16-miler in Fernandina. The 5K run was exposed to the sun and brutally hot. Gregory cruised through to a 1:29:33 finish. He posted the second-fastest swim and third-fastest run in his age group, which was the deepest and most talented he faced all summer.
At the moment, Gregory’s biggest weakness is on the bike. He knows this and has been working to bring his cycling up to speed, literally and figuratively. Fortunately for him, the bike is the easiest of the three disciplines in which to improve. Cycling for an 11-year-old isn’t really easy. Getting out on the roads is dangerous, and cyclists are still a bit of a rarity in South Georgia. Gregory rides with adults fairly often and also rides on Moultrie’s bike trail. Still, sending an 11-year-old out on his bike for a ride of an hour or more is unnerving for any parent. Recently, Gregory’s parents bought him an indoor bike trainer, which is an apparatus that turns a bicycle into a stationary bike. It’s a fantastic tool that offers cyclists the opportunity to get in a great workout on their own bike indoors in a controlled environment. Gregory has been using the trainer to work on his cadence and become more comfortable with gearing. As he gets older and stronger, his cycling will no doubt catch up to his swim and his run.
Regarding the future, Gregory would like to move up to Olympic distance triathlons (1.5K swim/40K bike/10K run) and eventually to Ironman races (2.4-mile swim/112-mile bike/26.2-mile run). At the moment, though, he just wants to keep training and learning the sport. He’s got plenty of time to mature and figure everything out. His family admires him for what he does, but they’re just fine with him doing the sprint races. “He’s just so dedicated. It really is a lifestyle to him. He also makes great grades, and he finds time to play the guitar. If he’s not exercising, he’s reading. He’s an amazing kid,” says his father.
Case Gregory is a very observant young man. Earlier this year, he visited a war museum and bought a book on combat tactics. In the book was a section on how to properly fall. When he got into trouble on the bike in Fernandina (another competitor got close to him and startled him, which caused him to fall) and realized a crash was imminent, he remembered what that book said about falling. He used the book’s technique and came out of the crash unhurt. He brushed himself off and completed the race without incident or injury.
Special Feature/South Georgia/October 2015
Willie Williams Middle School
By Robert Preston Jr.
Photography by Micki K Photography