Academic Magnet triathlon club Science teachers inspire students to tackle popular outdoor activity

Members of the Academic Magnet Triathlon Club ease into the water for the swimming portion of the recent TryCharleston sprint triathlon.

Triathlon is not your everyday after-school club activity, but then Academic Magnet isn’t your everyday high school.

Academic Magnet science teachers Murray and Laura Eicher are both triathletes and have shared their passion for the sport with their students. When some of the students expressed more than a casual interest in participating, the Eichers suggested forming the Raptor Triathlon Club.

One of those students was junior Micah Norton, who is using information gathered from the Raptor Triathlon Club as the basis for her senior thesis.

“I thought it was a really great idea. We had a booth at the club fair and 61 people (out of a student population of approximately 600) signed up. There was a lot of interest,” she said.

“It’s a nice opportunity to get out of the home and do something where they get to push themselves in a way they’re not used to pushing themselves,” Murray Eicher said.

The Raptor Triathlon Club began having group rides and swims and began training for what they hope is the first of many triathlons, the Sprint portion of TryCharleston.

Twenty-nine students signed up and 27 were able to participate on a cold, rainy Saturday where they swam 500 meters, biked 20 kilometers and then finished with a 5K run. A number of other students and parents also volunteered at the event. The school’s Dirty Birds drumming group provided entertainment.

“A lot of the volunteers came up afterward and really expressed an interest in doing the next one,” said Murray Eicher, who said the club hopes to be involved in a Sprint triathlon series over the summer at James Island County Park.

“It’s really neat to see kids of all levels participating. None of the kids seemed overwhelmed. When I was going through school, this certainly would not have been on my radar.”

Norton said her father (restaurateur Joe Norton) competed in triathlons when she was younger and she had always looked up to him.

“Last summer, I decided to do my first triathlon. He told me one day if I decided to do an Ironman (a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile ride and 26.2-mile run), that he would train for it and do it with me. So I’m going to hold him to it,” she said.

Norton’s governing question for her senior thesis (a requirement for all Academic Magnet seniors) is “Will the goal of completing a triathlon motivate adolescents to exercise?”

She said she is monitoring the club members’ exercise program to see if it increases. And while it’s too early to form a conclusion, she said more students are expressing an interest in joining the club.

Eicher said the club members are often involved in one of the three aspects of triathlons, usually cross country running or swimming. He said the club began doing group bicycle rides so the triathletes would become comfortable in riding with a group of other cyclists. They also worked on transitions and runs of all types. Club members do weekly swimming sessions at the LTP pool in Mount Pleasant and have teamed with Charleston Rides.

Eicher said the triathlon club helps the students reduce stress levels and provides a release. The biggest challenge is in keeping the costs low. Appropriate bicycles are the biggest expense. Eicher said he and his wife have nine bikes in their garage and his wife has four triathlon outfits that are being used by students.

“The kids are realizing what it takes to be dedicated and train for something like (a triathlon),” Eicher said.

“We feel like we are providing a role model not only academically, because we do teach at such high levels, but kids also get to see something outside the curriculum, which gives them new challenges and an incredible feeling of accomplishment.”