Monday, April 20, 2009

Your Opinion Counts!

I'd like your opinion on something....  It has to do with triathlon but you don't need to be a triathlete to have an opinion on it.

If you have a moment (and since you're here I know you do...) please comment after reading this post.  (You have to click through to my page HERE if you received this in a Feedburner e-mail.)

Please feel free to use the 'anonymous' option on the comment form if you would rather not have your name associated with your comment.  I am interested in honest opinions.

Send your friends or readers here...  I want as many opinions as possible!

Who has heard of the Hoyt's?  Triathlon's famous father and son duo, Dick and Rick Hoyt?  

Yes - most of us have I'm sure.  In case you've been living on the steppes of Mongolia and haven't, you can see the famous Hoyt video HERE.  By the way that's one of literally dozens of YouTube videos featuring the Hoyt's - each with thousands or millions of views.


Should "special cases", like the Hoyt's, be allowed to participate in races even though they do not conform to the rules of triathlon?

Before you say, "Ummm...  of course!  Duh!" or "No way!" Consider some points:

-First.  Don't focus just on the Hoyt's.  You are now considering future cases that may bear no resemblance to their story.  The people are not famous, nobody has dubbed them "inspirational" yet, and they may never.  It might be a middle aged gentleman with a bad back who wants to ride a recumbent bicycle because he cannot ride an upright one, it might be a father who wants to assist his disabled daughter on the swim, but not the bike and run etc. etc.
- The rules are designed to ensure fairness and safety.  As soon as you start waiving certain rules you are likely to be compromising in one of these areas.

- If, as a governing body, an organization chooses to overlook one rule (or two or three) where does it draw the line?  And how does it justify it's position to those it does not allow to race?

- If a governing body keeps a strict stance and observes rules as they are written, the sport would be devoid of some of its most inspirational stories - like the Hoyts.

- One of triathlon's greatest strengths (and unique aspects) is the attraction that it holds for those who have faced great adversity in life.  This does not always mean that a rule needs to be changed to participate - but sometimes it does.  

- For the record, the rules the Hoyt's are "breaking " are (in layman's terms):  1.  Triathlon is an individual sport.  2.  No boats allowed in the swim.  3.  Athletes must propel themselves around the course without assistance.  4.  Bicycle equipment must be of a standard form.  And perhaps many others...

- The safety of all competitors and volunteers needs to be considered.  Imagine if you were dealing with the request of someone you didn't know, with a strange idea to do something "different" that sounded a bit dangerous - like towing a disabled person, unable to swim, in an inflatable boat around an open water course.  Or racing a bike with a person essentially perched in a seat on the front.

- Simple Rule Primer:  Private corporations (like the one that owns Ironman) can make their own rules and allow anyone to race in any manner they deem acceptable (i.e. they answer to nobody.)  Races that are sanctioned by a National or Provincial Governing Body operate under rules created by the ITU - the world governing body.  This is similar to FINA in swimming, UCI in cycling, or IAAF in track and field.  (These events are expected to follow the standard rules.)

From me:  I sit on the board of Triathlon BC and Triathlon Canada, part of my role with these organizations is to work to make triathlon as accessible as possible to athletes with a disability - paratriathletes.  

Around this time of year I get a lot of emails with "special requests" - not that I am the one who can grant rule exemptions or wave a magic wand, but I do field a lot of interesting enquiries from potential athletes and from race directors. The overall direction we choose to take with this type of decision has been an ongoing discussion for some time. I would like to hear your opinions.

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RunningLaur said...

Your comments along with the story makes me think about it a lot more thoroughly than I had before.

I feel that there should be standards to competition, particularly with a multisport event like triathlon, but I also feel that there should be adaptations made for disabled athletes. It's were you draw the line of concessions that's the though call.

I'd say that the should be standard approved substitutes, like wheelchair racing. If an athlete cannot participate in an approved alternate form, than the safety of their participation form would need to be considered, and unfortunately, most likely dealt with on a case by case basis. There could be a criteria developed for the assessment of the proposed athlete, including things like safety, ability, and the requirements or spirit of the sport.

I'm interested to see what you come up with!

rUntoNamAste said...

Playing devil’s advocate here: I’ve heard heated debates as to why a parent isn’t allowed to race their child in a jog stroller at major races. Just because they don’t have special needs that doesn’t mean they’re not an inspiration. Surely not as inspirational as the Hoyt’s but who are we to determine the sentimental value of what one considers ‘inspirational’? I completely agreed with their point and thought why not? Then I thought about being surrounded by 1000 jog strollers and the increased probability of ending up with a tire mark across my forehead. Chances are I’d petition for the governing body to reconsider!

And that’s where exceptions get tricky.

One thing’s for sure, I agree with you 100% on the safety of other competitors, volunteers, and as you pointed out in your examples, the competitor. The sport within itself is ‘dangerous’ so the governing bodies really need to carefully evaluate the selection process and ensure that they execute the proper precautionary measures to protect all race participants! Having said all that, there seems to be no definitive answer to your question (atleast from me). Oy!

matt mccluskey said...

In my opinion, I think there should be some exceptions to the rules, such as the one's "broken" by the Hoyts.

If there is no interference towards the other athletes by them being in the race, I say let 'em play.

This is similar to the same question that was asked about Oscar Pistorius during the Summer Games last year. What was the result: Let 'em run.

I also think since Triathlons are considered a "fringe sport", there may not be a sheer number of "para-triathlon" events to satisfy the wants of athletes such as the Hoyts.

In my case, for example as an amputee, there is only one Mountain Bike specific race. It's only for amputees, and it's called The Extremity Games. Beyond that one time event, I must compete with "able-bodies" to keep racing all season long. Now, I don't ask/want special treatment, nor a special class at a regular event. I don't expect it, and I would venture to say "para" or "special" athletes don't either when competing in a "normal" event.

At the same time, I think the Hoyts, myself, and others, have a certain expectation that they won't be coming in first place every time, every race. I fully accept that when I race. However, I race because I love the sport in which I compete. I'm there to have fun. I'm there 'cause I want to be, no matter how I finish.

It all comes down to love. Love of the sport, love towards others that inspire, and love for the human race.

Jo Lynn said...

I read your entire post. I am not reading other people's comments before leaving my own.

If someone truly has a desire and passion to do the event but something is keeping them from doing it alone or completely "correct", I think there is a place for them. They obviously aren't in it to win it. Maybe it's a "make a wish" type of thing. Or, a lifelong dream and no idea how long their life is going to be.

I say, let them do the event. However, they would be required to start in the back and not cause a hazard to the more serious competitors.

I wouldn't want to be deprived of something I truly wanted to do before I die, just because I was physically or mentally "off". Would you?

Now I'll go read other comments. ;)

swimbikerunryan said...

WOW, can of worms...but a couple thoughts..
1) Being an exception to the rule last year, in Kona...i personally found merit in it (obviously)...I didnt' fit any template, and my abilities were hard to describe to the WTC. I feel that exceptions should be made, but on a case by case basis. Trouble being/or positive being, that you set presidence. Being a visualy impaired athlete, it is VERY VERY hard to describe yoru level of capability, but i am forever thanksful for the opportunity to race in Kona last year.

2) I think MJ, that if you and I ask this question, it is a tad misleading...or i can't speak for you, but if i asked the question, i would very mcuh be upset with ppl saying that NO EXCEPTIONS should be allowed. I did not choose (nor did you) the fate with which i am dealing. I still don't find complete understanding within my own triathlon circles...however i want to race, hard, fast and with the best in the world.

My only real issue, is that paratriathletes are not always given a field in wich to qualify...i am saddned that have no other way to get back to Kona (as a paratriathlete) then the lottery...i could put in as many trainign hours as the pros, be the best blind athlete ever (i'm not, for sure) but still never get a real shot at world championshps..

Exceptions should be made, case by case (unfortunately) but sometimes that is the way it needs to be..

Personally the HOYTS, JON BLAIS as some fo the most empowering and inspirational people to grace our sport, thanks to exceptions.... not to mention you too MJ, you kick butt:)

Chad in the AZ Desert said...

I think it is really up to the individual race organizers as to what they will allow or not allow in their races - with on exception. They have to be mindful of the safety of all of the other participants. For instance, the Boston Marathon has wheel chair athletes and the Hoyts go of at a different time than the rest of the runners so that nobody gets hurt. Nobody wants to train for months for a race and have it ended by an ankle being crushed under a stroller wheel.

In the case of the Hoyt's and the rules they are breaking, I think Ironman's stand is that none of the things they are doing are giving Dick and unfair advantage. Dick insists that Rick is the athlete, but Dick has to overcome the additional resistance that none of the other competitors have to. I'm sure if any of the other racers wanted to tow a boat behind them in the swim, they would be more than welcome to try.

In the end I think it is rightly the decision of the organizers of each race to decide for themselves. It's their money and their insurance on the line if something goes wrong. If people don't like the decision, they can let it be known by spending their money on another race.

Ulyana said...

I don't want to sound like "um, of course, duh!", but I feel that it is very important to accommodate disabled athletes. When it comes to racing, they have to overcome so many more obstacles than those who do not have disabilities that it seems unfair/ridiculous that there would be roadblocks for their participation in the events.

Of course, I understand that it is quite a task to organize a race and then to be able to accommodate everyone SAFELY. However, we can find numerous excuses not to do something. We just need to go an extra mile. Yes, it might change the sport a little bit, but is that such a bad thing?

Andrea said...

Very interesting post Meyrick and I'm thrilled to see so many people taking the time to respond in such a thoughtful manner. My own opinion (based on my very limited and brief experiences with the paranordic group this year) is that innovation in sport should always be encouraged. Obviously race organizers have some responsibility to set regulations - and I commonly tell students that sport is defined as physical activity when a group of people meet to participate together with a common understanding of the activity, the playing field, and the regulations.

That being said, I am a firm believer that athletes don't need a lot of rules to figure out what is going to work and should be permitted and what isn't. The best example is a study done on how children organize games when left to their own devices - it has been demonstrated that, without any instructions from adults, kids will adapt rules to make the event as 'fair' as possible. They will give the younger kid four strikes instead of three or pick teams that are balanced in terms of skill level. They understanding that sometimes you need to make modifications and that these modifications can enhance everyone's participation and not detract from it.

Back to adults - I am constantly amazed at how creatively athletes with a disability address the challenges they encounter when participating in sport. And I think most of them (and all athletes for that matter) can be trusted to come up with modifications that don't interfer with other athletes or endanger others... and that are in keeping with the spirit of the event if not written rules (although that's a dangerous assumption - that we all have a common understanding of the 'spirit' of an event).

It's a tough call for race organizers and I don't envy you being the one having to field the calls but I would err on the side of accommodating requests when possible.

MJ said...

A few notes:

I'd like to draw a distinction between disabled athletes (ones that fit into a predetermined category: like me or Ryan or Matt) and "special cases".

The "special cases" are special because, at the moment they don't fit into any predetermined category - these are people who perhaps aren't "disabled" but they can't ride an upright bike, or like the Hoyt's they are a team or whatever....

Saying "No Way" to these special cases does not say "No Way" to disabled athletes.... it just means that you are against bending, waiving or altering the rules....

I won't take it personally - in fact often I am the one who says "No way!"

P.S. This is not my official take - I just wanted to add this....

PC Ironman said...

I wrote a kick ass comment but my CPU froze so here is my second installment.

Each year since 2005, I appeal to the people that run Kona to let me enter the PC lottery. Each year, I spend $35 to enter the lottery with everyone else because I am a "special case". Im not famous like the Hoyt family. I merely am not disabled enough to be considered PC according to Ironman rules.

I feel that special cases should be given consideration so that people like those you described can have a chance to do something they have dreamed of. Maybe it is more like one of your readers said, a Make a Wish idea. From my end, I am not an obvious athlete with a disability so it makes things very trying for me. The only thing dangerous about me competing with AB athletes is getting in the way of my big ass on a descent. I may not be able to climb worth a damn but Im hell at descending!

My lost comment made more sense than this one but the bottom line is, the special cases that are not headline grabbing deserve a chance too.

don said...

At the Tri BC coaching clinic we were told that one of the core values of the sport of triathlon was "inclusiveness". If that is true then we should always be prepared to make allowances for those that do not meet our pre-defined labels or definitions. For example, last year we had a request from a transexual to participate in our club's triathlon. So we just asked them what it would take for us to make them feel comfortable enough to participate. Turns out all we had to do was to setup a changing tent for them. It was a win win situation for everyone and a great learning opportunity for us race directors.
BTW. I saw the Hoyts yesterday when I was running in the Boston Marathon. It was one of the highlights of my day!

Mike said...

Perhaps a new category such as "exhibition competitor" could be created to allow these exceptions to compete and continue to inspire.

Vincent said...

I think that as long as they are
1) safe, not putting themselves or others in danger
2) not getting in peoples way, slowing other down.

then I think they should be able to compete.

In situations where there is a qualification requirement, then thats a little more difficult and I don't really know how to answer.