A new group of racers will get to try the tri this year as North Shore Triathlon has added a category for adapted athletes.
The new division – one of the first of its kind in British Columbia – is open to youth ages 6-15 who need some extra support to make it through all the splash, spin and dash of a triathlon.
The category was created following a request from Vancouver’s Troy Scott and Shannon Kelly, whose 10-year-old son Liam is on the autism spectrum. Liam loves sport and has learned swimming, biking and running through programs offered by the Canucks Autism Network, and so Troy and Shannon thought a triathlon would be a great next step. Troy has done several local races and the family noted that the North Shore Triathlon always had a very positive, supportive atmosphere whenever he raced. They approached the race’s organizers about adding an adapted athlete category and were thrilled with the response.
“There are many adaptive programs around the Lower Mainland, but if you go to what you’d call a typical program or a non-adaptive program and you say, ‘Oh, what about this?’ a lot of times you can get a negative response, or at least a very cautious response,” says Shannon. “But the North Shore tri was literally immediately, ‘Yes, we would like to do this. Let’s figure out how to do this properly.’ That’s fantastic. … That’s really heartening as a parent.”
The idea fit perfectly with the event’s mandate of getting as many people involved in the sport as possible, says North Shore Triathlon Club president Nick Lyne, one of the race’s lead organizers along with race director Mick Maguire.
“It kind of dawned on me that probably we weren’t doing as much as we could to make the sport accessible to everybody,” says Lyne. “My goal is to provide the experience to as many people as possible. It’s the right thing to do.”
The new category – which has space for up to a maximum of 10 adapted athletes in this year’s event – allows racers to compete with a supporter with them throughout the race, including in the pool. The supporters will be identified with brightly coloured shirts to distinguish them from other parents – who are expected to stay off the course – and competitors. The adapted athletes will also get to use their own swimming lane, reducing some of the distractions of a tightly packed pool.
Those are the kinds of alterations that make sport possible for kids like Liam, says Shannon.
“As a kid on the spectrum Liam needs extra help with communication, he needs extra support if he’s in a situation that’s new or a situation that’s highly distracting, highly stimulating,” she says, adding that they’re very comfortable with what they’ve seen in previous years at the North Shore Triathlon. “It’s well organized, supportive and meant to be fun and positive. The whole atmosphere of the event is very positive and supportive, it very much has a community feel.”
That community feel has always been the backbone of the North Shore race, which was first held in 1989.
“The driving force behind this is allowing people to participate and be a part of something that they might not ordinarily have the opportunity (to do),” says Lyne. “The idea of family and sport and creating active lifestyles is such a key message for us.”
Shannon is thrilled that her son can now join in the fun.
“We’ve seen first-hand how positive that experience is for kids like Liam to be able to participate in sports,” she says. “It’s so inspiring and encouraging because we know that Liam loves sport. But there are a lot of things that are difficult for him because it may be noisy or because it may be too much distraction for him, so the fact that he has the opportunity to do this and the North Shore tri is supporting him, is just amazing.”
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This year’s event will be held Monday, May 22 in and around Ron Andrews Community Recreation Centre. Registration is still open for participants or volunteers through northshoretriathlon.ca.
For more information about the adapted athlete category check out the fact sheet on the event website or email Nick Lyne at firstname.lastname@example.org.