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Sam Holness talks autism and triathlon

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Self-styled as ‘the triathlete with autism’, Sam tells us about his journey into triathlon and how he wants to encourage more people with disabilities to take up the sport.

A member of his local club RG Active, Sam first got into triathlon a couple of years ago: “I watched a triathlon on TV and decided I wanted to enter an event. I’ve been hooked since my first race in 2016. I started swimming when I was two and have been a member of a running club for a number of years, however I took up cycling fairly late on and it’s my weakest discipline.

“I love triathlon because it brings together the best of what I enjoy. My strongest sports are swimming, cycling and running, and to be able to combine them into one challenge really empowers me to be the best I can.”

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way people with autism communicate and interact with others. There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK and, whilst all autistic people will share certain difficulties, it is a spectrum that affects people differently. 

For Sam, triathlon has helped the way he engages and reacts to the world around him: “Triathlon has helped me to improve my social and communications skills through taking part in events and attending training sessions.

“My confidence and self-esteem have also grown and, as a result of taking part,  I’m healthier, happier and it’s provided me with the challenge to show my best.”

Having started with a sprint distance triathlon, Sam has challenged himself to go further and in 2019 completed his first middle distance triathlon at IRONMAN 70.3 Portugal-Cascais: “Racing over this distance is the longest I’ve done. I really enjoyed the experience and am keen to do another one in 2020, but this time in under five hours.”

Since the start, Sam has been keen to encourage others to get involved in triathlon, with his dissertation being on how coaches work with autistic athletes to improve their mastery of skills. As part of this, Sam identified strategies to help coach athletes with autism and hopes to be able to coach and encourage others with learning difficulties to take up sport.

With his eyes set on beating his personal bests in 2020, he is on a mission to get others involved: “I hope to encourage everyone, including my mum and dad, to do at least one triathlon and for people with autism and other disabilities to take up sport.

“I want to help more disabled people get involved with triathlon because there are events accessible for all. The triathlon community is so supportive and it’s a great way to get active and healthy no matter who you are.”

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