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Everyday Hero: Kaukauna triathlon 'breaking boundaries' for student-athletes with disabilities

Jon Fuller

Athlete Tyler Tobin recently celebrated with his youth mentors, sisters Marin and Marli Sanderfoot, after he crossed the finish line at Kaukauna High School.

“It was a little bit hard,” said Tyler Tobin.

Forty-seven student-athletes with disabilities competed in the swimming, biking and running events at the Breaking Boundaries Triathlon. This is Tyler Tobin’s second triathlon, both times paired with Marin Sanderfoot.

“It’s awesome. I love it. We have such a good friendship. He is just one of the best partners ever. He’s so funny and energetic,” said Marin Sanderfoot, Kaukauna High School senior.

Tyler Tobin took second place last year and wasn’t satisfied with the finish. At the first event of the day, when other athletes arrived at the Heart of the Valley YMCA for the swimming event, team Tyler had their eyes on the prize.

“We’re going to win this, right?” asked Marin Sanderfoot.

“I’m going to win,” said Tyler Tobin confidently.

“Yeah, he’s going to win,” confirmed Marin Sanderfoot.

(Spectrum News 1/Jon Fuller)

It was the fourth Breaking Boundaries Triathlon hosted by Kaukauna High School. In the pool, swimmers took turns in lanes alongside their youth mentors.

Tyler Tobin finished the swim, high-fived mom and dad, then changed for the bike portion.

Fans of all ages showed their support, which made the event extra special for the athletes and their parents. Even YMCA day care children held up signs of support.

“It was pretty overwhelming, actually. It’s special to see how many people want to get involved and help these kids be successful and how motivated they are to do it year after year,” said Tyler’s mother, Katie Tobin.

(Spectrum News 1/Jon Fuller)

Bikers took to the CE Trail in Kaukauna, and volunteers stopped traffic along the intersections. Some athletes rode along on adaptive bicycles while their peer mentors pedaled along.

At The Recyclist Bike Shop, riders disembarked and ran, walked, or wheeled to the finish line on the Kaukauna High School track.

As a senior, this race marked Marin Sanderfoot’s last triathlon. But her sister Marli Sanderfoot is a freshman and got some on-the-job training from her big sister.

“Hopefully, I’ll still be with Tyler, and with my sister graduating this year, I can follow in her footsteps,” said Marli Sanderfoot.

Tyler Tobin’s parents thought that was a good idea.

“Repetitiveness is the best,” said Tyler’s father, Mike Tobin.

“That’s super helpful for Tyler because he likes to have that relationship,” added Katie Tobin.

Marli and Marin Sanderfoot said the triathlon was a great community event. Now, it’s even bigger.

Athletes from Kimberly and Little Chute were invited to join in on the fun. Kaukauna students welcomed the new faces.

(Spectrum News 1/Jon Fuller)

“It’s kind of nice to meet new friends from two different schools,” said Griffen Welhouse of Kaukauna, who competed in all four years of the event.

Each athlete worked with a mentor from their home school, as well as one from the host.

Tyler Tobin finished first, but event organizers said each athlete finds their own victories and challenges during the race.

“Crossing that finish line and earning that medal, these kids are just ecstatic about it. ‘Look what I have.’ What a neat moment for them and their families,” said Jill Lotzer, work-based learning and transition coordinator at Kaukauna High School.

Many athletes and mentors also spend time together before the race and make real connections.

“Our student-athletes and our mentors train together. We have training dates and some bonding dates. They get to work out in the facilities to prepare them for the event,” said Kaukauna special education teacher Kailey Colwell.

“Families really love seeing their student athlete pass the finish line and break boundaries that maybe they had or didn’t have in themselves, and they just enjoy watching them exceed those expectations,” Colwell added.

The students and the community all come together and break personal boundaries for a common cause.

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