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Four Years Out, Paratriathletes Ready for Rio
Though there are only 40 days until the Paralympic Games begin in London, England, paratriathletes are focused on what will happen four years from now. That’s when paratriathlon will make its debut, at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And despite the wait, talented paratriathletes in the U.S. are already beginning to prepare for the world’s biggest stage.
“The inclusion into Paralympics gave the sport new credibility,” said Patricia Walsh, a TRI-6 national champion. “Knowing that I could be an Olympian, knowing that I have an opportunity to represent my country on the international stage — it gives me butterflies in my stomach. I now am dedicated to triathlon over career and family until 2016. I dream of bringing home gold for the USA.”
Walsh is not alone. She was one of seven athletes who took part in the first high performance camp specifically for paratriathlon last month at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“Everyone who attended the high performance camp was there because they have a dream that fuels them,” said Michael Johnson, a wounded veteran and 2011 TRI-5 national champion. “It nourishes and strengthens us to push our limits and boundaries of what is possible. We live in the now, setting our sights on what we can do today to prepare for the 2016 Paralympic Games.”
The camp was organized by USA Triathlon in order to start preparing athletes for the road to Rio. “It’s a way for us to really understand how incorporating all three disciplines into the same camp infrastructure with athletes from six different classifications can really work,” said USA Triathlon High Performance General Manager Andy Schmitz. “It’s a huge learning experience for us, but it’s a great way to set a foundation or a benchmark for our athletes from a performance standpoint and also for our coaches in terms of what our best practices are.”
The week-long camp took a deeper look into swim, bike and run techniques, with analysis and drill work in addition to the opportunity to bike in well-known Colorado Springs landmarks like Garden of the Gods.
“As a triathlete, I've struggled with my swim,” said 2012 TRI-3 national champion Sean VanGerena. “Our swim was recorded and analyzed. We also reviewed video of efficient swimmers and then we learned drills to make us more efficient in the water.”
In order to meet the needs of the seven paratriathletes in the camp, four elite-level coaches were on hand to assist with various training sessions — Sergio Borges, Connie Sol, Mark Sortino and Hector Torres.
“As paratriathletes, we face some unique challenges from balance in the water to developing specific muscles for climbing, since many amputees cannot get out of the saddle on a hill climb,” said 2011 TRI-5 national and world champion Danielle McLaughlin. “The coaches at this high performance camp are aware of the strategies we need to utilize to better our performance.”
While coaches were able to teach new skills to the athletes, the camp also allowed the coaches the opportunity to perfect new techniques and modifications for athletes in certain classifications.
“It is amazing what you can pick up from being around other athletes and coaches,” said Matt Perkins, a five-time TRI-2 world champion. “To bring up the younger athletes, the ones most likely to be racing in Rio, they need to be exposed to the more experienced teammates so that they are not repeating the same mistakes many of us have already learned from. Getting old and new together will speed up the development of the athletes. The fun from the team dynamic also adds to the experience and can help keep athletes involved.”
Like Perkins, the attendees at the camp all had significant accomplishments in paratriathlon, which allowed them to attend the high performance camp. Over the years, especially since the announcement of Paralympic Games inclusion, participation has been soaring as newcomers make their way to the sport.
This is a trend noticed by Melissa Stockwell, who completed her first triathlon in 2009 after representing the U.S. as a member of the Paralympic swim team in 2008. “The sport has tripled in size and the speed of the race has increased significantly,” she said. “It's become a more mainstream sport and more known in the athletic community.”
With the Paralympic Games on the horizon, paratriathlon will continue to grow both at the grassroots and elite levels. Though this was the first paratriathlon high performance camp held by USA Triathlon, many clubs and organizations such as the Challenged Athletes Foundation have been introducing future paratriathletes to the sport through various camps and clinics.
“I think our vision will continue to be refined,” said Schmitz, who anticipates that the format of the high performance camps will become more targeted and last longer in the future. Athletes could also have an opportunity to live and train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs through a resident program, which could be established in the next few years.
When looking forward at what’s to come, the paratriathletes who attended the camp know they are going to have to take their training to the next level in order to be a contender for the 2016 Paralympic Games and the paratriathlon debut.
“I think after London, we will see a lot of athletes moving over to triathlon,” Perkins said. “I believe it will be the premier event in Rio, and the competition is going to get fierce.”
Athletes in attendance at the June 2012 USA Paratriathlon High Performance Camp:
Melissa Stockwell (Chicago, Ill.), TRI-2 — National Champion in 2010, 2011, 2012; World Champion in 2011; Member of the USA Paratriathlon National Team in 2011 and 2012; Wounded veteran
Matt Perkins (Boise, Idaho), TRI-2 — National Champion in 2009, 2010; World Champion 2006-2010; Runner-up at 2012 Nationals
Sean VanGerena (Orlando, Fla.), TRI-3 — 2012 National Champion; Runner-up at 2011 Nationals; Member of the 2012 USA Paratriathlon National Team
Joel Rosinbum (Portland, Ore.), TRI-4 — National Champion in 2011; Finished second at 2012 Nationals; Member of the 2011 USA Paratriathlon National Team
Danielle McLaughlin (Santa Monica, Calif.), TRI-5 — New to triathlon in 2011; Earned National and World titles in 2011; Member of the 2011 USA Paratriathlon National Team
Michael Johnston (San Diego, Calif.), TRI-5 — National Champion in 2011; Finished fourth at Worlds in 2011; Member of the 2011 USA Paratriathlon National Team; Earned a fifth place finish at 2012 Nationals despite an injury; Wounded veteran
Patricia Walsh (Austin, Texas), TRI-6 — National Champion in 2011, 2012; Bronze medalist at 2011 Worlds; Member of the USA Paratriathlon National Team in 2011 and 2012