A Ride With The Southside Triathlon Club

It’s 4:45pm on a Monday afternoon when I pull up to the Panther Branch Boys & Girls Club in Fort Worth. I unload my bike and cruise around the parking lot looking for our Southlake Store Director, Liesel McAllister, and the group she coaches here. Kids are chasing each other in the playground. Soccer balls are flying around and hundreds of separate conversations blend together to form a symphony of sound, occasionally pierced by shrieks of delight.

I don’t have children.

I don’t know how to act around children.

Where’s Liesel?

In a back corner of the parking lot I finally spy her, pulling bikes out of a trailer and having kids try on helmets. I roll over and announce myself. Liesel says hi, and I get introduced to the other adult volunteers who help run the Southside Triathlon Club, a 501(c)3 youth and juniors non-profit. The children of the club eye me warily for a minute or two, then, deciding I'm no threat, they go about their business. It's obvious that they're excited to ride.

Today is a brick workout, and the volunteers are spending the first few minutes getting everyone sized to their bike. Well... The bikes that the Southside Tri Club provide them.

“The current group of kids are from Sudan, Iraq, Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the US,” Liesel tells me.

Just before we’re about to roll out, I watch a tiny girl named Izzy. She’s wearing Wonder Woman socks with little capes on the back. The girl bends down and tucks the capes into the socks carefully, so that they don’t get caught in the drivetrain of her bike.

Alright… That’s pretty dang cute.


We roll out through quiet neighborhood streets and I notice that, despite their young age, the kids possess excellent cycling etiquette. They signal. They stop at stop signs and call out road hazards much better than the adults I usually ride with. They answer “Yes, Ma’am,” and “Yes, Sir” when asked a question.

We make our way out to the Trinity River Trails and Liesel separates the riders by pace. Each group will go out for 15 minutes, then turn around and ride back to the regroup spot. It’s an elegant, simple solution that challenges all of the riders. Three of the kids, Kadari, Ebake and Zero, take off like rockets. Liesel and I hang back and fight the wind with Caleigh, who at eight years old, is the youngest of the group.

“The program started in 2012 at Dagget Middle School,” Liesel says. “It’s one of the 5 schools in the Fort Worth ISD with a language center in it, so it gets a lot of underprivileged and refugee kids. We workout three times a week, and that includes two days in the pool teaching the basics of swimming. Building confidence in the water is always a challenge.”

It really is a windy day, and Caleigh is starting to fall off pace a bit. Liesel gives her a bit of encouragement, "Come on, Caleigh. Don't slow down." The girl grits her teeth and speeds back up. She’s giving it her all. Suffering a bit, but pushing herself to keep up.

After the turn around we start to make our way back to the Boys and Girls club. I’m riding next to Kadari and he decides to accelerate at the base of a long climb. I downshift and follow as he attacks in his all white high tops.

He’s trying to drop me!

To be honest, I have to dig a bit deeper that I care to admit just to stay on his wheel. Thankfully, we catch a red light at the top of the hill and stop. I watch as Kadari puts his head down on his handle bars and gasps for breath, the same exact way that Vincenzo Nibali did after winning stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia just a few days ago.



We return to the Boys and Girls Club and the kids take off to run two laps around the block.

“Everyone wants metrics to see how the kids have improved,” Liesel tells me. “But anyone whose been around it for a while... Someone like Ebake… I mean, he wouldn’t look you in the eyes when he started, he was just so shy.”

The kids finish their laps and chat amongst themselves. They return the bikes and gear, and I realize that most of the group won’t ride again until next week’s practice. The volunteers coordinate rides home for the kids amongst themselves. There is no carpool line for these children. One of the group couldn’t make it out today because his mother is studying for her citizenship test, and he had to stay home to watch his sister. Zero has been missing class lately to help take care of his family as well.

But the volunteers take this in stride. This is real world stuff, and the skills that Liesel’s group teach transcend sport. With all of the doom and gloom on the news, this is a real, tangible force of good in the world. We’re so proud to employee Liesel and sponsor the Southside Triathlon Club. It’s a hundred percent community supported endeavor, that wouldn’t exist without people like the Bonnell Restaurant Group, who donated the bikes that the kids ride.

If you live in the DFW area and would like to offer your time and/or a monetary donation to the Southside Tri Club, check out their website for more information. If you’re in the Waco area, watch out! The Southside Tri Club is heading down to compete in our very own Wacotown Kids Tri on July 23rd.


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