By: Jen Russon
Justin Kahn is not your average high school sophomore. The 16-year-old Coral Glades student intersperses his academic and social life with more swimming, biking and running in a single week, than most of us do all year.
There is good reason for that. Kahn is qualified to compete in the ITU World Championship Triathlon this August. In the Swiss town of Lausanne, described as the heart of Europe, one of Coral Springs’s own athletes has qualified to swim a .5 mile, bike 12.4 miles and run 3.1 miles – all in quick succession.
Kahn has kept to a grueling training schedule these last few years to rise to the occasion, but said it’s the financial cost of seeing his dreams come true that scare him the most.
Last July, after bicycling near the Meadow Run neighborhood of Parkland, Kahn was hit by a driver making an illegal turn. His helmet cracked in more than one place and his bike was a total loss. Ever since his brush with death (doctors told him his helmet saved his life), the teen has had to replace training sessions with physical therapy.
It took a long time to get back on track, and now that he has, Kahn said he sees an expensive road ahead; however, he believes that staying active on his school’s varsity cross country and swim teams make that road worth navigating.
“I have wonderful coaches who are training me for every step of my journey. If you can believe, with school, I train about 15-20 hours per week, year round,” the determined, young athlete said.
Kahn, the only child of Erica and Jeff, is candid about the expense of an overseas trip. His mother is a paralegal and his father is a pharmacist. The Kahns live in Eagle Trace, and do well enough to transport their son all over the country to compete with his Z3 Triathlon Team, but said finding the money to travel abroad is a different matter.
“Between the airfare, the hotels, uniforms, entry fees and the bike transport, my head is spinning,” said Kahn, who added he has dreamed of competing in an international triathlon since he was about 12 years old.
He had been passionate about sports long before that, playing baseball, soccer and Charger football. He participated in his first race at about 8 years old, but it wasn’t until middle school that he zeroed in on the triathlon.
“I love it. I know I’m fast enough. I want to do it in college,” he said.
Kahn added that during his last two years as a youth competitor, he placed at almost every event, and was able to join an elite development racing team that participates in draft legal triathlons. He credits his multiple coaches with preparing him for the triathlon in Switzerland. His cross country coach, Pedro Gonzales and swim coach, Raphael Lima push him hard. So does his Tampa-based coach, Karen Quilty.
The teen is conscientious enough that even on days when school is out, you can find him swimming at the Coral Springs Aquatic Center or running around his neighborhood. When he isn’t filling the air with the white noise of back and forth laps for a solid hour, Kahn participates in sprint triathlon races around Florida. He is ranked 1st in Florida and 16th in the nation, according to the USA Triathlon Organization.
Kahn said paying it forward is as important to him as winning at sports. As a member of the cycling club, CSP Express Cycling, he participates in many charity rides. He has a long history doing so. In 2015, Kahn participated in the MS150 bike race in Orlando, where he personally raised over $1,000. Just 12 years old at the time, he was the youngest participant to ride both days.
Kahn is also involved with the Parkland Buddy Sports program for running and soccer, and said he enjoys being paired with a disabled child, helping him or her improve on coordination and stamina.
Since he doubled down and trained hard enough to compete in a world triathlon, Kahn – whose past coaches have also nicknamed him Rudy, Lionheart and Nails – said his middle name may as well be stamina.
“I’ve worked very hard to get back into race shape [after the biking accident]. I have dreamed of competing at an international level and I qualified, this year, for the first time,” said Kahn.
On August 30, he will join more than 3,500 professional and amateur triathletes from around the world. They will take to the waters and paths of Lake Geneva for a weekend that Kahn said he has worked most of his life to see finally come to fruition.
He will have mentors to watch and root for on this pivotal weekend. When the Elite Men’s and Women’s races take place, two champions will be crowned as the world’s top triathletes, and eventually compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Who knows? Kahn may be next. If you would like to help Justin Kahn in his quest to represent Coral Springs and the United States, as a Triathlete in Switzerland this summer, donate here.
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.