If 17-year old Derek Akey, a track and field athlete from Gainesville, has aspirations to be a triathlete, his participation in the Sunshine State Games (SSG) International Beach Games is a start. He registered in three of the seven events of the Third Annual Beach Games, held in Clearwater Beach, September 29-October 1, Beach Powerlifting, Scottish Heavy Athletics and the Under 19 Weight Throw – Florida Championship. Beach Rugby, Beach Tennis, Beach Ultimate and Ultra Weight Pentathlon also took place at the 2017 SSG International Beach Games. But here’s the thing. Akey is quite the talented young discus and shot put thrower who attends Buchholz High School and has traveled to national competitions. However, he competed in Beach Powerlifting and the Scottish Heavy Athletics for the first time, only just recently taking up Weight Throw events in April. Akey’s participation in the 2017 SSG Beach Games was a direct result of the recruitment of the Weight Throw Sport Director, James Griffin, of Fort Lauderdale. “We met at a track meet and he gave me some pointers on my throwing,” Akey says of Griffin. “He’s super friendly and down to earth. I send him videos of my throws and he offers tips. He suggested I enter in the Beach Games and while I’m at it to ‘go play around with the Scottish Heavy Athletics.’ So I’ll go play around with it.” Griffin is quick to point out the SSG Beach Games is the only USA Track and Field (USATF) sanctioned meet in Florida where Under 19 athletes can qualify in Weight Throw events for the 2018 New Balance Nationals Indoor (NBNI) Meet. The March, 2018 NBNI will be held in New York City, where the country’s best prep track and field athletes have the opportunity to be seen by college coaches and earn scholarships. At the 2016 Beach Games, Madi Malone, qualified for the New Balance Nationals Indoor and made such an impression on coaches from Auburn University, she was offered a full scholarship. Malone and Akey have something in common. They were named the 2016 USATF Florida Throwers of the Year. “Events like the SSG Beach Games can be life changing for young athletes,” said Griffin. “For an athlete like Madi Malone and Derek, it’s the difference between earning a scholarship or having to pay for your college education and working while you’re in school and having student loan debt. That’s the motivation for guys like Derek to come and compete.” Motivation is not a problem for Derek Akey. Still in his junior year at Buchholz, he is taking college level classes at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. In his spare time when not in school or throwing the discus and shot put, he designs shoes for fellow throws athletes for use in competition. He also has another business outlet reselling shoes online. “I designed some competition spikes for a former University of Florida triple jumper Marquis Dendy,” Akey said. “I also made a pair of custom throwing shoes for my coach Stipe Zunic I hoped he could wear when he competed in the 2016 Olympic Games for Croatia. He wore them in a local meet before receiving a letter from the International Olympic Committee saying he couldn't wear them.” Zunic, who was an 11th place Olympic shot putter, still displays Akey’s work proudly. One of the shoes is at his home and the other is on display in a coffee shop in Croatia. The SSG Beach Games is an example of how the Florida Sports Foundation continues to offer Florida’s amateur athletes the latest innovations and trends in the national and international sports arena. The International Beach Games transforms the wide Clearwater Beach between the Sheraton Sand Key Resort and the Gulf of Mexico into an athletic playground. To accommodate the sports, involved athletes and spectators are treated to a variety of multi-purpose fields, including four Ultimate fields, one Beach Rugby pitch, 10 Beach Tennis courts, a 75-yard throwing area for the Weight Throws and Scottish Heavy Athletics and a Powerlifting platform. An added bonus of the SSG Beach Games Weekend is an opportunity for all hotel guests, as well as all spectators and Beach Games participants to try Archery Tag for free. Archery Tag is an intense, fast action competition like dodgeball with bows and arrows. Teams of five play timed games to try and score the most points. Shoot your opponents, a target or catch an arrow to score points in this fun-filled combat archery game.