The Paratriathlete Diaries: The London League

This post is one of a series I call “The Paratriathlete Diaries” – in the series I hope to take a regular look at the random things that happen in my life as an athlete with challenges.  Any ideas, questions, or suggestions throw them my way. I would like to use this feature as a way to answer questions anyone might have about living with chronic conditions such as Charcot Marie Tooth disease and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, but with a light touch and a bit of humour. I’m all ears!

On Tuesday November 25th I had the opportunity to speak at the London League triathlon committee meeting, which included representatives from all London based triathlon clubs, as well as Triathlon London and Triathlon England. First on the agenda was paratriathlon, with Triathlon London (and southern England) paratriathlon representative Dave Clyne giving a brief update to all in attendance about the state of paratriathlon. I had the opportunity to meet Dave for the first time that evening, after exchanging emails with him over the past year sharing my ideas about how, from a grassroots perspective, we (clubs and athletes) could promote the development of paratriathlon.

As Dave said to the League, British Triathlon focus has been on elite squad development and podium identification and planning in the run up to the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. But in my opinion, with a sole focus on elite team, we all miss out.

Although I chimed in after Dave with my thoughts and suggestions, below is the prepared text of what I had planned to say. I didn’t say it all, but I thought I would share here my full thoughts and requests to the League.

Good evening. My name is Donna DeWick. I am a member of London Fields Triathlon Club, a British and US national, and compete as a PT4 paratriathlete, most recently at the ITU World Paratriathlon Event in Chicago in June.

My purpose for coming tonight is to ask the London League to..

1. Support the development of paratriathlon.
2. Ask for the implementation of an open paratriathlon class for at least one league race to encourage uptake and inclusion in our clubs.
3. To promote the Arctic One Dorney Lake open event (for paratriathletes and regular triathletes) on June 28th.

The background to my request is as follows

In 2010 paratriathlon was accepted for inclusion in the Paralympic Games by the IPC. Unfortunately not all the categories were able to be included for medal events – with only 3 categories eligible for men, and 3 for women (out of a total of 5 categories each).

To ensure inclusion as a medal category two key criteria must be met – participation from 5 countries, and 3 continents. Unfortunately for the women, only three classifications met this criteria: PT5 (visually impaired), and PT2 and PT4 (varied degrees of impairments but which use standard cycles).

To have all classifications included in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, the world needs to increase the numbers of paratriathletes competing. This can happen by being driven from the top – as British Triathlon have chosen to do in the run up to 2016, with potential elite athletes being hand selected by national governing bodies – or this can happen by creating opportunities for participation in the grassroots of our sport.

London is one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world, with arguably one of the world’s most competitive sources of athletes. Our clubs have produced athletes such as Chrissie Wellington and Rachel Joyce. Our clubs are the home for age groupers like Shirin Gerami  who break new ground and are the first participants for their countries in our world championships. It only makes sense that our clubs create the opportunities for grassroots paratriathlete growth and participation too – the next world champions could be someone new to the sport looking for a way to get involved in our clubs right now. Our league system should support them.

I would like to propose an open category at one or a selection of our events, similar to the way the Open PC system works in the USA. The Open PC system is an all inclusive wave with no need for classification to compete – just tick a box to enter the category, with follow up from race organisers to athletes to find out what assistance they need, so that necessary accommodations can be put into place, and to ensure the athlete’s impairment is known. Open PC is an inclusive grassroots system, rolled out officially in the US in 2014, and the reason why I chose to focus my 2014 season on US events. It is a way to develop paratriathlon.

If our clubs field participants they could be awarded points. It is a way to encourage our clubs to be more inclusive. It is also a way for us to collect data – we can learn what classes of athletes we have in our clubs, what demand there is, and then fine tune events to better meet athlete demand. It is a win win for all.

I would also ask our clubs to help promote paratriathlon friendly events in our region, such as the Arctic One triathlon on June 28th at Dorney Lake. I will be there and I hope to see some of your or your club mates there too.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to address you tonight.

Thanks to my club London Fields Triathlon for giving me the heads up about the meeting, and for encouraging me to share my ideas and experiences. I hope this translates into concrete actions for our London 2015 triathlon season.

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