By Eleanor Bailey

Winning was on Christian Fishell’s mind during the second annual My Turn To Tri special needs triathlon Aug. 15 at the Spencer YMCA in Bethel Park.

“I want to get first place,” said the 12-year-old Upper St. Clair resident.

Every participant, though, walked away a winner as they showed off trophies awarded for their efforts.

“Christian feels like he wins,” said Fishell’s mother, Kristine. “Winning to him is just doing it.”

Christian and the other contestants completed a 10-minute swim, a 15-minute bike ride and a 10-minute run before crossing the photo-finish line toting a red banner with the word “winner” emblazoned on it.

“Yes,” Carson Koch said, “this was fun. I liked the swimming and running. Biking too. I go fast like a Cheetah. He’s the same speed as me.”

Charles Koch chuckled and added his 10-year-old son had been excited about the event ever since they saw a Facebook post and filled out an application.

“We think this was great,” said Charles Koch. “Carson does Miracle League and has a great time. So anything else they can do is amazing. He had a good time with it.”

Ally Fishell founded the event with her sisters, Jillian and Gabrielle.

An Upper St. Clair High School senior, Ally said she wanted her brother and his friends, who also have special needs, to have the opportunities she did. Ally participated in youth triathlons before transitioning to scholastic cross country and track.

The first My Turn To Tri took place in 2019. After a one-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the race returned this summer.

Expectations and philosophies remained the same.

“The goal is really for the athletes to try to do their best,” said Ally. “It’s more abut the experience and having a good time.

“It’s very adaptive,” she added. “Everybody does what’s most comfortable for them.”

Mike Lloyd agreed. He is the director of mission placement at the YMCA.

“Exceed your boundaries,” he told the participants. “Have great fun but be comfortable.”

Because he had a recent medical procedure, Christian could not participate in the swimming portion of the event. Instead of becoming upset, Christian opted to walk around the pool and hold up signs of encouragement for the other competitors.

“Christian immediately goes to the bright side,” said Kristine Fishell. “His attitude is so good. He always finds something to be excited about.”

Kristine Fishell was equally thrilled about her daughters and their philanthropic endeavors.

“They always encourage Christian,” she said. “He’s high functioning because the girls are a part of everything he does.

“Hopefully, they are an inspiration,” she continued. “They enjoy doing things for other people, especially those that don’t have the opportunities that they do.”

Ally has a chance to do more once she completes her scholastic education. She plans to continue helping others by pursuing a career as a physician’s assistant. Duquesne and Slippery Rock are among her college choices.

“I’m interested in all opportunities,” said Ally.

Ally also wants to continue promoting opportunities for special needs athletes through an awareness of events such as My Turn To Tri.

“We are looking for it to get bigger and better,” said JoAnn Guilfoil, who is the Healthy Living director at the YMCA.

She added she was enthused at the volume of volunteers, many of them teenagers.

“That made it even more enjoyable to watch because they want to give their time and talents back to the community,” Guilfoil said. “I love that.

“We are all winners inside,” she added. “It’s great to get out, stay healthy, stay active and try.”

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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