Triple take: Pendergraft Family enjoys triathlons

by Donna Lampkin Stephens

Two Conway teenagers are among the country’s best youth triathletes.

Brothers Bryan, 15, and Garrett Pendergraft, 14, sons of Buck and Kim Pendergraft, finished fourth and 59th, respectively, in the USA Triathlon Youth Junior National Championship in West Chester, Ohio, in August. The field contained 75 qualifiers ages 13-15.

Kim Pendergraft said nearly all the other athletes were heavily coached and trained with a team.

“[Because] there is not a youth team anywhere around Central Arkansas, they have pretty much trained on their own and done well,” she said.

Bryan, who completed the course (375-meter mass start open-water swim, 6.2-mile draft legal bike and 1.5-mile run) in 31 minutes, 46.63 seconds, was eight seconds off the podium and 38 from second behind Zach Wilson of Carmel, Ind.

But he was invited to USA Triathlon’s Junior Elite Men’s Mini-Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in November, where he was to join 12 other male elite triathletes ages 15-17.

Bryan said he was looking forward to the opportunity.

“I think just going there and getting some motivation, getting some insight, and just getting to hang out and asking questions and train with them — just get some coaching,” he said of what he hoped to accomplish.

Garrett finished nationals in 36:26.16.

Kim Pendergraft said the boys’ unexpected national success had come only in the last year.

“I had no idea how good they were,” she said. “I just knew that no matter where we went, Bryan has won his age group or the overall title and set some course records.”

In fact, you could call the Pendergrafts Conway’s first family of the triathlon.

The boys’ foster sister competes in triathlons, and little sister Rebekah also competed in her age division at West Chester, placing 16th among 20 in the 8-year-old girl division.

“She loves to compete,” Kim said.

Obviously, it’s a family trait.

The Pendergrafts’ triathlon experience began with the 2010 Conway Kids Triathlon, when Bryan was 10 and Garrett 9.

“We had no background at all — none whatsoever,” said Kim, who home-schools the children. “I just saw the signs and thought, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting. We’ll try it.’

“I didn’t know how to train them. I didn’t know anything. So we practiced running and biking on mountain bikes.”

Most kid triathlons for 6- to 10-year-olds include a 100-yard swim, three-mile bike ride and .6-mile run. Both boys placed in their age groups, whetting their appetite for the sport.

“That got us all addicted,” Kim said. “After that, we started searching for more to do, and we started traveling for them. We went to more and more and more and learned more about the sport. I did the best I could to coach them, knowing nothing, and it just went from there.”

Since then, she said, the family usually participated in 10-14 triathlons every year.

But Bryan, particularly, was so successful — the first age group division he ever lost was at the national qualifier in Des Moines, and he has set course records in nearly every age group race he has done — that he grew bored.

“This year he said, ‘I’m done,’” Kim said. “I said, ‘Then pick a sport. You have to do something.’ In five-and-a-half years, he doesn’t have to train and he gets course records, so I found some truly big-boy races.”

Those included a draft legal practice race in Dallas in early June. According to, such a race allows bike riders to ride in a pack, allowing them the advantage of drafting behind another bike.

“In most other races, you have to stay so many lengths away instead of one on top of the other,” Kim said. “My boys had never done a draft legal. Bryan came in second, but it was to an older boy, and that kind of turned him on again. He said, “Ooh, that was fun. I like this type of racing.’”

At that point, Kim found one more qualifying race for nationals, and the boys made it off the waiting list to make the field of 75 in Des Moines. Bryan finished 20th overall; Garrett was 49th.

Bryan called draft legal competition “a lot more fun.”

“It’s just a lot bigger and better races and better athletes,” he said. “You’ve just got to hang out and race harder and see how good everyone is.”

At West Chester, the Pendergrafts “kind of sort of hooked up” with a team from Dallas.

“They welcomed us, loaned us some equipment and let us hang out with them,” Kim said. “They helped us — ‘This is you how start, how you ride your bike, what you need to do.’”

Next year, Bryan will move up to Junior Elite (ages 16-18), and the distances are doubled to a 750-meter mass start open-water swim, 12.4-mile bike ride and 5K run.

“He will be a little fish in a big pond,” Kim said. “At nationals, if the 15-year-olds had not raced, Garrett would’ve come in 19th.”

Both Bryan and Garrett agreed that the bike ride was their favorite part of the triathlon.

“From a normal race to draft legal on the bike, it’s a totally different mindset,” Bryan said. “You have to strategize. In a normal race, you just go hammer all the time, but in draft legal you’re strategizing because if you’re in a certain group and everybody else has fresh legs, it’s a lot faster.

“There’s a lot more adrenaline. Most of the guys you know are friends and you feed off each other and go that much faster.”

Said Garrett: “I just like cycling, maybe because it’s the fastest one.”

They bike with Conway groups. Their weakest event, they said, was the swim, so they joined the Aquakids swim team in May 2014. They run on their own or with Kathy Kelly, a local trainer, and her son, Kerry.

Bryan said the run was probably the hardest of the three events, “but it’s just the last thing, and your legs are tired.”

He said he usually swam three or four nights per week for about two hours per night, rode 60-80 miles and ran 8-15 miles per week.

“Probably the main thing is just being in shape and having the camaraderie with all my friends I race with,” he said of his motivation for the sport.

Garrett said his reward for all the hard work was simply “to be 59th in the nation.”

“It’s a lot of fun to have a multi-sport,” he said. “I think we were gifted, but practice makes perfect.”

He has built-in motivation to keep up with his big brother.

“He’s a lot faster, so I just try to keep up with him,” he said. “That’s a challenge for me.”

This family can’t ignore a challenge.