According to Mr. Henderson, the real issue is this:
I would argue that maintaining accessibility to all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds, stands as the issue that most needs addressing in the near future. Social sustainability, if you will.
Our sport is gentrifying. You can see it at small races all the way up to large productions, at every distance. Barriers to entry are going up, and though the sport is still growing, its appeal is at risk of tarnishing.
Mmhmm. I have totally seen that. The other quote I rather enjoyed, written by Mr. Carlson was this:
Triathlon must be a welcoming sport - not a group of great races that need the obsessive drive of Ivy League college applicants and the Internet skills of a renegade hacker to get in.
Tell me about it! Finally, one thing that really brought it home, I felt, was Mr. Henderson's mention of the steep learning curve that awaits newbies:
Our sport is not as friendly as it could be to beginners. There's a steep learning curve already present with the three disciplines - chances are any given beginner will not have a background in at least one. And once the first-timer shows up at a race, he or she needs to figure out what to do and where to go and how to not look silly in the process. In the meantime, $6,000 bikes gleam in the sun and $500 wetsuits lie in wait. In today's world of triathlon, it takes a bit of gumption to show up with a mountain bike or hybrid.Sigh. It's all so true. So, I wrote a letter to the editor, or whoever's email it was at the bottom of the article, just thanking these gentleman for calling attention to this issue. It really is a problem. Here was my letter:
This is in response to the article written yesterday, "What's the Most Pressing Issue Facing Triathlon in the Next 5 Years?" by Timothy Carlson and Jeff Henderson.
I couldn't agree more with the point of view that triathlons have become Starbuck's races. Timothy's quote about "Triathlon must be a welcoming sport - not a group of great races that need the obsessive drive of Ivy League college applicants and the Internet skills of a renegade hacker to get in." was spot-on.
I am now in my 4th year of triathlon and am simply getting tired of people being there to show off how much money they have and cherry-pick races based on the competition so they can feed their ego and feel good about themselves for coming in first in a local, low-key race. That's another problem all itself - last year the Wall Street Journal had an article about people who choose races based on the competition so that they'll place and can have bragging rights (wouldn't it be cheaper for them to see a psychologist for their ego issues?). Therefore, even the smaller, sprint-style races that are meant for beginners and supposed to be 'relaxed' become usurped by the people who know the ex-pros won't be there and can squash out the newbies. Hmph.
My favorite times were before I purchased my Cervelo P2 (that I feel I EARNED and worked my non-profit butt off for); I was on my Trek OCLV road bike that probably dates back to 2000, and would just zip past these guys that dropped thousands of dollars on their bikes. Or the woman who gave my bike a 'look' last year like "oh yeah, right" - and I passed her during the race as well.
Still, I digress a bit. I would love to see a 'fun tri.' One that involved rafts and big wheels and potato sacks or something. I wonder if I, too, will eventually be priced out of racing. I work for a non-profit. I buy my own training books and work hard to build on the potential I know I have. I had to save for awhile to buy that bike. In only the last three years, though, I've seen prices go up, races getting sold out earlier and earlier (which, again, for those of us who have to plan out when we're going to purchase our races after saving for x number of months...kind of wrecks that idea and my credit card takes another hit), and the overall attitude of triathletes become more and more elite instead of more welcoming.
Triathlon is an amazing sport. I try to share it with everybody, but people seem so intimidated. They say things like "I could never do that," or "I wouldn't know where to start." I was lucky enough to join with a club that had great support. But what about the people that are motivated enough to stick their toes in on their own? Who do they turn to? As Jeff said, the folks who have the nerve to bring a hybrid out there are to be admired.
Whenever I get into the transition zone on race morning, I instantly begin to freeze up. "Look at those bikes...those helmets...awww crap" and my dreams of placing begin to be dashed. Then I remember how it's all just a show and I have to ignore it and just go HAVE FUN.
That's why we do it, right? Because it's fun. Because it's rewarding, no matter where you end up in the results.
I just hope that this strategic plan will include these concerns and help to steer triathlon into a direction that will help it to be accessible to anybody who wants to give it a shot.
Thank you for the well-written article. I apologize for my long e-mail, but I really felt like you brought a voice to the observations I began to make last year.
Santa Rosa, CA
Basically, what we're saying here, is let's keep having fun with it. But add more races! Diversify the races! Have some fun with them! Why not do a fun race the same weekend as the serious one? Why not have more serious tri clubs put on races? As a swim meet director for two years in a row, I know sanctioned races take a butt-load of work to put on. But if more of us want to participate in the fun, then maybe we need to start thinking about participating in the work, too.
I'll close with this final quote from the article, which I just laughed at the thought of - sounds like SO MUCH FUN -
Attached to bigger triathlons and as small, standalone races, triathlon needs events where people are encouraged to show up to with beach cruisers, floaties and roller skates if they don’t like the run. No timing. No rules except to have fun.No rules except to have fun. :)