High-fives, loud crowds encourage student-athletes in Lawrence school district’s adaptive triathlon

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Middle and high schoolers and their supporters brought their school spirit to Lawrence High School on Wednesday to celebrate athletes of all abilities during the fourth annual Pat Grzenda Triathlon.

Cheers of “You’ve got this!” and “Good job!” rained down on student-athletes as more than three dozen participants had an opportunity to swim, pedal a stationary bike and take laps around the track. The adaptive triathlon provides student-athletes of all abilities an opportunity to flex their skills during the Olympic-style event.

The encouragement he receives is a favorite part of the triathlon for Darby Bates, a seventh grader from West Middle School participating for the second year in a row.

“I like the biking,” Darby said. “There’s a big crowd to cheer you on.”

While some athletes crossed the finish line on the track solo, others were accompanied by volunteers, friends, family or members of their educational teams.

Mati Rahat, LHS junior, and Emme Dye, LHS senior, held hands as they took their first lap around the track together. Big smiles covered their faces as they passed the supporters gathered at the finish line.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Mati Rahat earns a medal.

Jackson Martin felt the support of his family while he worked up a sweat. Jackson, who will graduate from LHS later this month, holds a passion for Unified Sports, broadcasting and film editing and hopes to meld those interests in higher education next year.

Jackson’s dad, Mike Martin, said he wouldn’t have missed Jackson’s last triathlon.

The elder Martin has taught physical education at Prairie Park Elementary since 1999. In his own classroom, he adapts athletics and activities in order to include students enrolled in special education. Instead of using a volleyball for an activity, he might instead use a balloon, for example. He referred to the triathlon as an example of “outstanding inclusion.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Jackson Martin earns a medal.

“This is what it’s all about right here. I’ve seen about three or four of my teacher friends and I was telling them, ‘This is why we do what we do,’” he said.

The triathlon is named after Patricia “Pat” Grzenda, who retired in 2011, according to a district news release. She taught adaptive physical education for 34 years and has earned induction into the Kansas State High School Activities Association Class of 2023 Hall of Fame. Read about that honor, the Master Teacher Award she earned in 2004, and her coaching career with Lawrence Public Schools here.

The federal legislation that established adaptive PE programs in 1975 was the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Today it’s known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Pat Grzenda

Grzenda stood close by Wednesday, cheering and clapping as participants made their way through the chain of events. During the closing ceremony, Grzenda congratulated each student-athlete as medals were hung around their necks.

Grzenda said she felt honored to have her name associated with the event.

“It’s just so very special that, first of all, the kids have this opportunity,” Grzenda said. “I love it that they keep it so focused just on the kids and then making it a really positive event for the kids.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Pat Grzenda, right, congratulates a student-athlete.

Grzenda acknowledged Jayme Savage and Brad Stoll, the district’s adaptive physical education teachers and key organizers of the event. Grzenda praised the district and its leadership for keeping the triathlon’s tradition alive. 

“I’m grateful that Brad and Jayme were kind enough to associate me with it, for them to carry this out and do it year after year, because it’s not easy,” Grzenda said.

Savage said the event continues to grow and appreciates the support from the community and all six middle and high schools across the district.

“This is just like a 100% feel-good day,” Savage said.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Brad Stoll (left), Pat Grzenda and Jayme Savage

Milo Scotten, seventh grader at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, sat with his family and rested up while waiting to receive his medal.

Experience makes the event easier each year, according to Milo. His hair remained damp from his swim in the pool, which was his favorite portion of his second triathlon.

“Swimming’s the one I practiced the most,” Milo said.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Milo Scotten, seventh grader at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, earns a medal.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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