A Taste of Success
Through the challenge of triathlon, the Happy Tooth Foundation teaches at-risk kids in North Carolina about the value of perseverance, focus and healthy choices
By Allie Burdick
Dr. Larry Moray, co-founder of the Happy Tooth Foundation and “Yes I Can!” triathlon summer camp for at-risk kids in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is often asked why he would choose triathlon for the focus of his camp. “The idea is to present something to these kids that is totally foreign,” he said, “because they will all be confronted with things that at first seem insurmountable in their lives, so the goal is to teach them that with hard work and dedication, you can do anything.”
The Happy Tooth Foundation is the perfect match with the USA Triathlon Foundation where the mission is “to open pathways to triathlon to those for whom it might not otherwise be possible.” At the beginning of camp, six of the nine campers could not swim and three of the nine could not yet ride a bike. But at the end of the summer, all of them successfully completed the Tar Heel Youth Triathlon.
“The USA Triathlon Foundation grant money covered the bikes, running shoes, swim gear and kits,” Moray said, “What needed to be supplied by the kids themselves was the confidence to compete.”
In the days leading up to the race, Moray remembered, “The kids took the lead working out their fears.” One camper, a Rwandan refugee, confessed he wasn’t going to race because he was afraid. Moray was audibly emotional as he relayed what happened next. “[The camper] said, ‘I don’t think I can do it, I’m afraid,’ and the rest of the campers said they were scared, too, but if they all just did the best they could and supported each other, that would be enough.”
Looking back on it now, Moray said, “I hope they appreciate all they accomplished. In the grand scheme of things, completing a kid’s triathlon may pale in comparison to some of the things they have to face.” For his part, Moray is heading into a second summer with most of the same kids (the original nine were invited back) and then nine more.
Of course, a camp tied to the Happy Tooth Foundation has a focus on healthy eating habits, which easily incorporates into triathlon training.
“Our message is all about making healthy life choices,” Moray explained. “You can eat a Twinkie or have a banana with peanut butter and then easily link what you eat to how you perform.”
Most of the meals at camp are pre-planned, but sometimes the campers have the opportunity to try unique foods, including a lunch when the staff shared their sushi with the curious campers.
Knowing that the camp is only eight weeks out of a lifetime, Moray and the camp staff realize, “We’re not going to change a kid’s life in two months,” so they have monthly gatherings where they meet at the gym for different activities and then go out to lunch. “We want to build relationships with these kids so they have someone to come to for support and advice.
Unfortunately, they don’t have family structures that are conducive to that,” Moray said. “We want to be lifelong mentors.”
The Happy Tooth Foundation is well on its way to achieving that goal and plans to build a farm on 32 acres of land recently purchased for that purpose. Moray envisions a dining hall and full kitchen, vegetable gardens and endless trails for running and cycling.
Moray takes the advice he gave his first group of triathlon campers to heart.
“Focus, drive and motivation,” he said. “Once you learn those three things, you can apply them to anything in life.”