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ParaTriathlon in the London League

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When I first mentioned ParaTriathlon to a friend he wondered what I was talking about. As an former member of the Parachute Regiment, I suppose the confusion was understandable. However, the use of Para in this case refers to the fledgling sport of Paralympic Triathlon.

I’d been a triathlete in my teens and up until 2002 when just after my 22nd birthday I sustained a spinal injury that resulted in paralysis of my left shoulder, arm and hand. I’d compete in all manner of running events over the last decade, from middle and long distance races in Regional and National Athletics Championships (English Federation of Disability Sports), to 24-hour ultra-marathon trail races, including the 90 mile National Trail Running Championships. But after a few very long races in 2013, I was tired and looking for a change. That change came in the form of a return to a sport I thought I would never again be able to take part in: triathlon. When I heard about the Arctic 1 ParaTri sprint race at Dorney Lake in 2014, (2015 race details HERE,) I signed up. It had been well over a decade since I’d done any swim training and I had a bike which I’d used just a handful of times, but I got around the race and, most importantly, had a fantastic time! 
 
Since the first British Triathlon ParaTriathlon National Championships in 2008, the sport has come a long way. GB have a very strong ParaTriathlon squad, which has recently started its Rio build-up with the opening ITU in South Africa winning one bronze, three silver and two gold medals! 
 
 
Photo reproduced with kind permission from Triathlon Ireland.
 
Some of these performances were from athletes fairly new to triathlon, such as Andy Lewis, and younger athletes, such as George Peasgood who came second to none other than Yannick Bourseaux. He’s got two first places and one second at the ITU World Championship in the PT4 category. [For a full list and explanation of the ParaTriathlon categories check HERE
 
While it's great for GB ParaTriathlon to have athletes performing excellently on the world stage, it can sometimes be hard for would-be ParaTriathletes to find their way to just starting a local race. Having recently started ParaTriathlon I've found that most race organisers are very welcoming and will allow for certain adjustments on request. But I can also count many occasions, when I competed in middle and long distance running events over the last decade, and there were barriers to participation. I run with my arm in a sling due to paralysis, and sometimes these barriers might just come in the form of a comment: "Are you going to run like that?" My response would more often be, "Why yes, I am... try and keep up!" 
 
But in triathlon the barriers are potentially greater. For example, for a PT4, which includes upper limb amputees or those with comparable limitations, it might be about getting a wetsuit off with one functioning hand, or how to set-up a bike to operate brakes and gears with one hand. For a PT1 athlete, the barriers are greater as the course must be compatible with a race wheelchair. There are also many questions a person might have before they take part in an event, such as "Do I need to be classified before I sign up?" or even if it's just that you want to join a club, "Can the coaches accommodate me in their sessions?"
 
To get past these barriers, England Triathlon London have for 2015 included a ParaTriathlon League within their annual London Triathlon League. The League comprises ten races, most being of Sprint distances or less, with options for Aquathlon, Duathlon and Triathlon. These different options mean that there is a race for everyone. No bike? Take part in an Aquathon! Can't swim? Take part in a Duathlon! Don't fancy open-water swimming? Take part in a pool-based triathlon! For these events you don’t need to have an official classification. For many, their classification is very clear and should athletes want to take their racing to the next level there are classification opportunities throughout the year. These tend to be at ParaTri-specific events, BTF Open ParaTri open and talent identification days. (More info HERE)
 
The Paratriathlon League will be an open category, so there will be no separate league for the five PT categories. In addition to scoring in other competitions there will be one point awarded for every ParaTri competitor with a league event finish. The male and female athlete with the most points wins the Para Tri League.  
 
As well as the league, England Triathlon have been working with clubs, coaches and event organisers to discuss ParaTriathlon and how everyone involved in triathlon can do more to improve ease of access. That means that should you have a query or request, such as course suitability for tandems or a little more space in transition to lay out your kit, event organisers shouldn't be surprised. 
 
So if you've ever thought about taking part in a multi-sport event but were worried about certain barriers, the London League might be just what you need! Get in touch with Alan Spelling, Senior Series Coordinator, with any questions. ( email: londonseniorseries@triathlonengland.org) More details of events and contact details can be found HERE
 
And what next for me? After realising I could swim with one arm and set-up a bike to work all controls on one side, I’ve started to take ParaTri training a bit more seriously. I got around the Arctic 1 ParaTri race last year mainly on determination, but I’ve now learnt to swim, and have halved my swim time from that first race, and have already entered more than ten races in 2015. Of course, some of these are part of the London League, so if you see a guy swimming with his arm tied behind his back or running with it in a sling, come over and say hi!
 
 
Report written by Garrett Turbett from Trent Park RC
 
If you've got a story to tell please get in touch with us email: jontrain@triathlonengland.org

 

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