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  • Gary Roethenbaugh

Collaboration, inclusivity & innovation: pillars to kick-start growth in triathlon

Updated: Jan 3


(Article originally published on our sister site endurance.biz in February 2023.) At its latest annual awards, national governing body USA Triathlon (USAT) recently recognised race directors and their events by presenting awards in three distinct event categories: collaboration, inclusivity and innovation.


These three award categories feel particularly resonant for the sport of triathlon, which has for a number of years seen participation ebb and flow.


There are a number of headwinds facing triathlon as it comes out of a pandemic slump, not least a cost of living crisis as well as heightened competition for ‘share of participation’ coming from areas such as trail running and gravel riding. By recognising the need to increase collaboration, inclusivity and innovation, USAT is putting a marker down for areas the event industry can focus on.


The awards were presented at USAT’s annual Endurance Exchange conference in January and were awarded to:

  • Collaboration Award: Michael O’Neil (Boston, MA)

  • Inclusivity Award: Julie Marchese (Foreside, ME)

  • Innovation Award: Gabriela Gallegos (El Paso, TX)


USAT added that… ‘The awards recognize and celebrate excellence in the USA Triathlon race director community. Through their vision, and commitment to multisport and their communities, these three race directors have gone above and beyond in their service to the sport.’


Victoria Brumfield, CEO at USA Triathlon, said “USA Triathlon is focused on promoting and amplifying the sport to underserved communities – and the initiatives Gabriella, Julie and Michael have implemented at their local events are great examples of the type of collaboration and innovation that opens and promotes the sport to new audiences.


“We’re working together with local events, race directors, coaches and clubs across the country to promote racing local – and through our USA Kids Tri program, we’re connecting local youth athletes with triathlon and multisport opportunities in their communities.


“We’re seeing dynamic, tight-knit multisport communities developing in underserved areas across the country, which is really promising. The vast majority of people participating in triathlon are doing short-course racing at local events in their communities. They’re looking for a fun, healthy activity; and racing local is the best way to get introduced to the sport.”


Collaboration Short-course racing – from super-sprint, to sprint and Olympic distances – arguably represents the beating heart of triathlon. This is the area where new-starters typically begin their triathlon journey. By working with local stakeholders and sponsors, short course events create community experiences that can celebrate athlete achievements and inspire others to get on board with the sport.


Michael O’Neil, Race Director of the Boston Triathlon, said “I think it is important for all race owners to be engaged in their local community and to use their races as a force for good to help their communities.


“Teaching kids, and underserved kids in particular, the lifesaving skill of swimming and providing them with a positive pathway through sports is essential in our city. I am grateful our race in Boston has like-minded partners including Columbia Threadneedle Investments, BCBS of MA, and Amazon that support these efforts.


“Many thanks in addition to Mayor Wu, Boston City Hall, and the city’s hardworking staff who have provided leadership around this important public/private initiative.”


Inclusivity As USAT’s Victoria Brumfield indicates, in addition to a collaborative focus, triathlon needs to reach out to underserved areas and communities. This is applicable to any triathlon market worldwide, as relying on a base of ageing (albeit affluent) athletes to support participation is short-term at best.


Julie Marchese, Founder and Race Director of Tri for a Cure in Portland, Maine, said “At Tri for a Cure, we are fundamentally driven by being inclusive.


“This is an event to honour cancer. Those who join our event want to make a difference in their cancer community, so we try to make it inviting to take the plunge and do a triathlon.


“We offer many types of clinics leading up to the event along with handholding, hugs, and love to honour athletes in their endeavour to cross the finish line.”


Innovation

From collaborating with partners, through to ensuring that each individual feels truly welcomed, the final area recognised by USAT is innovation. For many years, triathlon has had a reputation for being innovative. Although, arguably this was more about product than event innovation.


Event broadcasting is one example where local races can show themselves to be innovative, helping to build their reach and expanding connections well beyond their immediate local area.


President and founder of Race El Paso, Gabriela Gallegos, said “The live broadcast of the all-female Mighty Mujer Triathlon triathlon introduced a broad audience to the sport. It started conversations about who participates in triathlon by showcasing a range of women.


“More than anything, it drew viewers into the joy and challenge of the sport as only live television can. Viewers watched tough hill climbs and cheered when an athlete who looked like their mother, sister, wife, or friend crossed the finish line.”



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