Triathlete Igniting Dreams of Olympic Hopefuls through Project Podium
by USA Triathlon Foundation
An accomplished age-group triathlete is igniting the dreams of Olympic hopefuls through Project Podium.
American men have yet to medal in individual triathlon at the Olympics, but Project Podium aims to change that. This elite development program began during the 2018-19 school year as a partnership between USA Triathlon and Arizona State University.
Men selected for the program train at the highest level while earning an undergraduate degree for free or at greatly reduced cost. They have the flexibility to take on lighter course loads and race internationally.
Project Podium is generously supported by Dr. Bill Warren and his wife, Lynne. They’ve supported it since it began, because Bill is passionate about expanding the sport, particularly at the elite level for men.
“If someone is achieving great results, people take notice and get on board,” he said.
American women have experienced more success in triathlon at the collegiate and Olympic levels. It’s on its way to becoming a NCAA sport, and U.S. athletes have earned three Olympic medals in women’s individual triathlon.
The path to elite triathlon and the Olympics can be more difficult for men during college. Standout runners usually are recruited by track programs, and scholarships for football often choke out other sports, like swimming. Trying to balance triathlon with a full course load is difficult, as is resuming the sport after graduation.
For Project Podium, bringing home a men’s individual Olympic medal is the ultimate goal. But Bill is also hopeful it will encourage youth athletes and grow the sport at the collegiate level.
“If you get more schools doing tri, you’ll get more high school kids who will try to do it to get scholarships,” he said.
In many other countries, Olympic hopefuls are supported by government funding or lottery proceeds. That isn’t the case in the United States. Elite triathletes hoping to make it to the Olympics rely on support from the USA Triathlon Foundation and other sponsorships.
“This is a perfect example of how philanthropy can positively impact and completely alter the trajectory of a program,” said Dr. Gabe Cagwin, president and chief advancement officer of the USA Triathlon Foundation. “Because of Dr. Warren and Lynne’s generosity, we are providing greater opportunities for men to compete in triathlon at an elite level, which will also encourage younger generations to take on the sport.”
Although Project Podium has only been around for a few years, it’s already achieving results. At the end of its third season, the United States has had four under-24-year-old men ranked in the top 100 in the world. That’s more than any other country in the world, and three of these men have been Project Podium members the last three years.
“Without the support of donors, this would not have been able to happen, especially through the financial impacts of COVID-19,” said Parker Spencer, Project Podium’s head coach. “We cannot thank our donors enough and look forward to continuing our work to ensure their investment in our program is paying off.”
Bill grew up doing the traditional football, basketball and baseball, but wasn’t quite the right height or weight for those sports. In high school, he thrived as a wrestler.
He hoped to wrestle in college, but an injury and surgery put a damper on that. “Then I also decided I’d better study,” he said.
Following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, Bill attended medical school and later founded The Good Samaritan Health Center in downtown Atlanta. The center provides medical, dental, mental health, specialty and health education services to individuals and families who otherwise can’t afford it.
Giving back to others is something the Warrens strongly believe in, as well as living by the biblical principles of kindness and generosity.
“Life is not about us, it’s about how you treat others and how you give to others,” Bill said.
He’s enjoyed having the opportunity to race internationally, something up-and-coming men also experience through Project Podium. In 2019, he raced the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Lausanne in Switzerland. A week later, he competed in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France.
The excitement, energy and fan base you encounter racing internationally is “really special,” Bill said.
“I love doing this and hope I can keep doing it,” he said. “Every day I get to compete, it’s a bonus day in life.”
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.