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Together We Thrive: Foundation Ambassadors Share Visions for Multisport's Future

by USA Triathlon Foundation

Sharon Byun holding a USA flag.
Sharon Byun

Logo for USA Triathlon's Together We Thrive
USA Triathlon

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a time to recognize the accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans in the United States.

USA Triathlon and the USA Triathlon Foundation are dedicated to combating discrimination, challenging inequalities and championing social justice in the multisport community and throughout the endurance sports industry. Inclusivity Starts with Us is one of the principles of our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access initiative. And we must continue to live up to its calling of turning words of support into actions for change.

Today, we’re highlighting groundbreaking moments, individuals committed to change and athletes paving the way for future generations. Two of our USA Triathlon Foundation ambassadors—Sharon Byun and Khem Suthiwan—shared their racing experiences and their visions for the future of multisport.

The Foundation’s ambassador team is a dedicated group of athletes who are committed to raising awareness for our mission: transforming lives through opening pathways to swimming, biking and running for all.

Sharon Byun holding a USA flag.
Sharon Byun

Location: Gainesville, Fla.

Age: 53

Years racing multisport: 10

What does multisport mean to you? Multisport is a lifestyle choice that is filled with some of the most energetic, inspiring and supportive group of people who love all things swim-bike-run!

What was your first race like?

My first race was in 2012 at the age of 43. It was a local sprint distance triathlon in Crystal River, Fla. They had a novice wave for first timers, which was nice because it was a smaller group, and the swim was not as chaotic or intimidating. I still swam off course anyway and have learned to practice sighting since then! I tried to put a T-shirt on in T1 and it got all rolled up under my armpits which was distressing and comical at the same time. I remember feeling super uncomfortable on the bike (hello, bike fit and saddle) and was so happy to get to T2 and start the run. My husband and son came to watch, and we went to the beach with friends afterwards. I had so much fun and was instantly hooked and ready to sign up for my next race.

What did you notice about the presence of Asian American athletes in the sport when you first started racing?

I definitely observed the absence of diversity more than the presence of diverse groups of people, including Asian athletes.

What would you like the USA Triathlon audience to understand about being an Asian American triathlete?

As an American, I would first like to be recognized and seen as an American triathlete and then as an athlete of Asian heritage. I am so proud to have had the honor and privilege to compete as an age-group athlete for Team USA and represent my country at ITU/World Triathlon events. I’m extremely proud of my Korean heritage and I also carry my American flag with great pride. I would also say that in general, Asians are not typically recognized for their athletic ability, so don’t underestimate us!

What’s your vision for the future of multisport?

I envision a future where there is a place for anyone who wants to participate in our sport to have the support and resources to do so. I believe that the triathlon/multisport community is working to make our sport more accessible to all by reaching out to communities of people who might not otherwise have considered competing as multisport athletes. Having recently competed in the USAT Multisport National Championship Festival in Irving, Texas, I realize there truly is something for everyone. You can compete in a multisport event as a swim-bike-run, swim-run, swim-bike, run-bike-run and now even as part of a relay team!

What could be done to help that vision become a reality?

I think the biggest barriers to entry are cost, particularly the bike, and confidence with swimming. I personally would love to become a part of an adult learn to swim program as a volunteer coach. Perhaps if there could be a bike sharing option or equipment rental option until people are fully ready or able to make a commitment, that might help improve entry and access into our sport. Multisport is a community and having a local mentor can be hugely helpful to someone who wants to get started. Outreach is key.

What else would you like people to know?

Embracing a multisport lifestyle has been such a positive life altering experience for me. Our sport encompasses a wide variety of distances and disciplines and truly is for everyone and anyone who wants to give it a try.

Khem Suthiwan holding a Colorado flag while celebrating after a race.
Khem Suthiwan

Location: Denver, Colo.

Age: 44 

Years racing multisport: 13 

What does multisport mean to you?

The multisport world has given me the opportunity to push myself both physically and mentally as well as be part of a community through training and racing.   

What was your first race like?

My first race was the Danskin Women's Triathlon in 2003. I had no idea what I was doing, and it was awesome. I trained by doing laps in the pool (breaststroke only), riding a recumbent bike in the gym, and I had just finished my first marathon. The open water part didn't freak me out until I was a few yards offshore. Luckily there were swim angels who were there, and I had one that stayed with me for the entire swim. Oh, and I wore a two-piece sports bikini for the swim. From transition, I just threw on some running shorts and a tank top and headed out on the bike. I borrowed a hybrid bike from a friend for race day, it was way too big, and I had no idea how to shift gears. By some miracle I made it to the run, which was my forte. I had such a fun time that I raced it again the next year!   

What did you notice about the presence of Asian American athletes in the sport when you first started racing?

There weren't really any Asian athletes when I first started racing, and when I would see one, I really didn't give two thoughts about it. Growing up in Kansas I was used to being the only or one of the few Asians that I'd see with anything I was doing. In fact, sometimes I would do XYZ because I wanted to be the first and/or only Asian to have the courage to do XYZ. 

What would you like the USA Triathlon audience to understand about being an Asian American triathlete?

We might not look like the rest of the field, but we are just like everyone else.

What’s your vision for the future of multisport?

I hope multisport finds its way back to being pure fun again instead of being a fashion show full of athletes with the latest technology, most expensive gear, and inflated egos.   

What could be done to help that vision become a reality?

Support small and local race/event directors through sponsorships and grants. These are the people who put on the races and events with the fun backyard BBQ picnic atmosphere. We need more of them and need to support them.  

What else would you like people to know?

Like with most environments, the multisport community could use some diversification with regards to their demographics. But what's the solution? I don't know. This sport has a high barrier to entry just because of the various costs involved in just getting started with training, and not to mention adding the costs of racing. Then there's breaking down the cultural barriers that people create within themselves. My challenge to every multisport athlete out there is to empower someone who may not "fit" the typical demographic and introduce them to multisport. 

The USA Triathlon Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the charitable arm of USA Triathlon. With its mission to transform lives through sport by providing opportunities to swim, bike and run, the Foundation serves to generate a greater impact on the multisport community through charitable giveback and grants that advance the Foundation’s three pillars: (1) Encourage youth participation; (2) Inspire adaptive athletes; and (3) Ignite Olympic/Paralympic dreams. Since the Foundation was established in 2014, it has provided millions of dollars in grants to organizations and individuals in pursuit of its mission and pillars to create a healthier United States through triathlon.