Paratriathlon Classification, Part 1 (originally published as “Borderline Normal”)

Note:  This blog was originally published on 7 December 2009 and contained my reflections on the paratriathlon classification process and experiences that I had.  After reactions from British Triathlon and upon reflection, the piece has been substantially rewritten – so much so that I have not marked the changes in the blog as per usual blog convention. 

At the request of those individuals involved, I am maintaining their anonymity. 

I have transformed this blog into a two part posting, so that the process of classification and results of my classification are reflected in this entry, and the entry of May 24th 2010 contains my feelings and opinions about the process, so as to not confuse the two separate threads of the picture. 

I would like to make it clear that in no way am I seeking to do a disservice to paratriathlon.  Rather, I think it is important that the process is demystified and that everyone – athletes, those with impairments, and non-athletes alike – understands a bit more about the world of parasport so that its aims can be more widely embraced by our countries and colleagues.  I welcome your comments, questions and feedback on this piece and its companion.

On Monday the 7th of December I went to Leicester (in the UK) to undertake my paratriathlon assessment.


The purpose of my visit was to see if I classify for paratriathlon status, which would help to crystalise my training goals and aims for 2010 with a bit of clarity around whether or not I should compete as a paratriathlete given my diagnosis of CMT (Charcot Marie Tooth disease, a progressive degenerative nerve disorder).

First, as a means of introduction, I asked the classifier who conducted my paratriathlon assessment to help to explain the process. 

What is paratriathlon?

DD: When was the sport of paratriathlon established?

Classifier:  I’m not exactly sure, but amputees have been competing as age groupers for some time, and gradually more disability groups have become involved, the ball really started rolling in UK in about 2004.

DD: How many paratriathletes are classified in the UK?

Classifer:  About 30 but the number is growing all the time as the sport of Paratriathlon is really taking off and there is a ranking series of events this year in the UK (in 2010). 

DD: What is the advantage to an athlete of classification?

Classifier:  Life isn’t fair and neither is sport, but classification makes competition fairer by grouping individuals of similar impairment so that it is their sporting ability, skill and training that is judged by the competition and they do not win because they have a physical advantage over another competitor.

DD: Who typically administers classification – doctors? Medical professionals?

Classifier:  An accreditied ITU classifier, typically a physiotherapist or doctor, i.e. someone experienced in assessing physical impairment.

DD: Can you summarise how classification is administered? What does an assessor check?

Classifier:  The tests are specific to Triathlon, not a particular diagnosis and they assess the effects of impairment on the sport, using the most sensitive measure for the individual. It is a standardised sports specific test that is applied equitably to everyone to group paratriathletes of similar (not identical) impairment to provide the fairest possible competition. The individual classes have numerical parameters and individuals must fit the parameters to fit the class so as to be fair to everyone. The Quick Guide gives more detail.

/files/8/4/3/8/3/147398-138348/Classification_a_quick_guide_v2.pdf”>Click here for the “Quick Guide to Classification”

My Classification

So on that grey cold Monday in December I hoped to find the answers – to see if I classified for paratriathlon.  Since May of 2009 I had been seeking classification.  The opportunity offered to me during the triathlon season in 2009 was in August, at the ITU Hyde Park event, when unfortunatelly I was away in the United States on holiday.  I chose to travel to Leicester on at my own expense to gain information about whether or not I classify for paratriathlon, to help to shape my training, goals and race calendar for 2010.

The paratriathlon classification process was undertaken by a trained physiotherapist in accordance with the ITU (International Triathlon Union) classification system, and was observed by a staff member of British Triathlon.  Both individuals were incredibly open and generous with their time, including meeting me at the station, and returning me to the station to catch my train.  I thank them for their hospitality and openness with me throughout this process.

The classifier can choose to undertake an assessment of impairment using one of three scales:  power, range of movement, or coordination.  My classifier used the power assessment, testing for muscle strength (weakness), as this was the most appropriate test for someone with my condition.

The classification uses the Oxford Scale – a scale from 0 to 5 – to test for muscle strength in a variety of muscle groups used in triathlon.  From my neck to my hands, from my arms and legs to my feet – each muscle group used in the various elements of the three sports (swim, bike and run) was tested.  For example, the radial deviation of my wrist was examined (a swimming specific test) and finger flexion and extension were tested (a cycling specific test).

The classifier tried to be as accurate as possible with the process, using increments of 0.25 to document the strength that I had in order to assess my level of impairment in the most precise manner possible.  Most of my scores ranged from 2s to 5s, with the majority of my scores in the 3 and 4 range.

Paratriathlon classification is awarded to individuals who demonstrate more than a 15% level of impairment.  As we know from watching the Olympics, classification and assessment are tricky and subject to scrutiny and challenge.  It is vital for both the classifier and the athlete to work to ensure the fairest assessment possible – meaning that the athlete must not hold back from demonstrating strength, and the classifier must take the time to ensure accuracy of assessment.

My classification process took a lot of time.  Although the guidelines indicate perhaps 45 minutes, I believe that my classification took the better of two hours.  Considering that the classifiers are in general volunteers, this was an incredible amount of generosity and commitment shown to the process, the sport, and me.

Paratriathlon classification is a process that is not diagnosis based but impairment based.  At the end of the assessment, I walked away with a provisional TRI4 classification.  TRI4 is a classification awarded to athletes with arm problems.  I demonstrated greater than a 15% impairment in those tests specific for arms.  However, I only demonstrated a less than 15% impairment on my legs.  It is acknowledged that I will be at a disadvantage in the TRI4 category due to the impairment which I have in my legs.  However, if I were to classify in the TRI3 category (which considers the total body impairment) I would be close to the impairment threshhold and therefore may be at a relative advantage.

My TRI4 classification after the process is provisional – the classification is not complete until the athlete is observed in competition.

My next steps

I left my paratriathlon assessment with mixed feelings.  Because further observation is required, it did not really help me to select my races for 2010.  And it did not help me and my coach with added clarity around time goals for 2010.  I will be rescheduling classification and observation sometime in 2010.

I said when I started this blog and my journey in triathlon, I am doing this for a few reasons:

  To build strength
  To improve my overall fitness
  To stay strong for as long as possible
  Because I enjoy it…


Plain and simple. 

So it is with this mantra that I embark on 2010 and the forthcoming triathlon season.  Let’s see how far I can go!

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