The Triathlon is back; a day of challenge, fun

Violet Chang

The echoes of the Independence Day fireworks have faded as the month of July moves into full gear locally with vacations, day trips to the beaches, backyard cookouts, major league All-Star baseball, and the Patriots opening camp marking the march through the month, which will end with the 11th annual Boston Triathlon on Sun., July 30.

The event, which will begin with activities along South Boston’s Carson Beach, offers yet another opportunity for inclusive, fun festivities for the Boston community. Participants will have several options: Register and compete as individuals, on a team, or as part of a three-person relay that will take on the challenging swim, bike, and run course at either sprint or Olympic distances.

Beyond the competition itself, the day is aimed at welcoming people of all genders, ages, ethnicities, and abilities to come together and celebrate a day of athletic grace and communal spectatorship. According to Event Director Michael O’Neil, the event sets itself apart from other triathlons because of its diverse group of participants, particularly in a sports community that has generally been geared towards similar types of athletes with a high level of experience in triathlon competitions.

The Triathlon, now even more competitive with the addition last year of Olympic distances, this year is issuing a call to youth to join the triathlon community by introducing a kids’ race called Kids’ Splash and Dash on Saturday July 29, the day before the main event.

Susan Sotir, a Boston Triathlon training coach and a professor of sport studies and exercise science at Springfield College, once wrote glowingly about her experience joining the Boston Triathlon community, especially citing the diverse crowd of participants: “Triathlon is a sport with a lot of barriers to entry, and growing the sport outside of a relatively narrow demographic has been a challenge. This crowd of athletes gathered together on a Thursday night in downtown Boston was amazingly diverse. Individuals were young, old and universally mature, some folks described athletic backgrounds, some described this as their first real athletic challenge. The people present had a variety of accents, skin colors, body types—and every single one of them was nervous about what a triathlon was going to be like!”

Violet Chang, a physical therapist and Boston Triathlon regular, had her first experience with triathlons at the Boston event. “I went into my first race with Boston Tri with no experience or training, a rusty commuter bike and ended up having a blast with the event,” she said, “trying the transitions for the first time, experiencing the awesome camaraderie of the different levels of athletes, feeling super welcome as a complete rookie.”

Added Boston Triathlon regular and Boston EMS professional Jamie Dismuk:“Every year I’ve seen a wider range of ethnicities, and I think that’s the result of their outreach,” she said.

Director O’Neil says that his outreach strategy has been mainly about getting the word out to the Boston community through people who have enjoyed the experience for themselves. “Everything that we do is community oriented,” he said. “We’ve gone to expos and we also create community events like the “My Long Run Is Done” party at District Hall on Northern Avenue, where we brought in racers and Daniel Koh, Mayor Walsh’s chief of staff, to talk about our goals for the race. We also host events that provide tips and suggestions for racers on how to best be prepared for race transitions. It’s one thing to get out of your comfort zone and it’s another thing to not have enough information. So we have events that are all about teaching and helping people to understand what they’re going to be doing.”

Dismuk had never considered competing until a co-worker suggested she give the Boston event a try in 2014. She has returned every year since, participating in the Ironman triathlon in 2016, and also joining the Black Triathlete Association. She says that the new process of registering to compete was made easier by the pre-race training sessions and athlete packet pick-ups meant to ensure that the athletes knew exactly what they would need to have a smooth experience during their race.

She also credits the welcoming and accommodating environment that is created by the event’s organizers and volunteers: “Having a celebration with beer and food is really nice. I have not gotten that at any other triathlon, which are geared toward athletes. At the Boston Triathlon, they try to involve and encourage everybody, keeping things very spectator friendly.”

This year’s after-party will once again also feature food trucks and free beer for the competitors, their friends and family, and other registered supporters of the event.

To quote Sotir’s recollections once more: “Triathlon is, to me, a sport that allows a place for pushing our personal limits. On this day, thanks to the act of providing a safe, personalized forum for orientation and questions, new people joined our sport, and triathlon will be a richer place for having them.”