Takeaways from the Outspoken: Women in Triathlon Summit

Back in late spring or early summer, I – saw an ad? got an email? – announcing the inaugural “Outspoken: Women in Triathlon Summit.” Outspoken: check. Woman: check. Triathlon: check. So while I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the weekend, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I anticipated inspiring women, new connections, and stimulating conversation, but really didn’t know what else the weekend might hold, right up until I walked onto the rooftop deck at a hotel in Arizona for the first night of the inaugural Summit.

Meredith Kessler may not have realized it at the time, but she set the tone for the weekend as she stood at the podium to present the Opening Keynote and told us, “I need you to come closer.” And we did. Our group of 100, comprised of pros, both relatively new and deeply experienced age-groupers, coaches, and industry leaders, walked forward from corners of the rooftop and gathered together – that night and for the remainder of the weekend. We listened to speeches and panels and asked questions and participated in discussions, all of which were raw and honest and personal. We had come closer.

While I couldn’t possibly recount the entire weekend’s worth of stories and dialogue – and really, if you weren’t there you’re just going to have to accept that you don’t get all the details – here are some of my favorite takeaways from the weekend:

• Me, someone who thinks that wearing any attire not designed for sweating is “dressing up:” A conference that advises wearing comfortable shoes and includes morning coached swim and run workouts is my kind of conference.

Senator-Elect Krysten Sinema

• Sally Edwards, pioneering and incredibly accomplished endurance athlete and former spokesperson for the Danskin women’s triathlon series: Triathlon began in the 1980s with a fascinating cultural juxtaposition, both establishing a progressive policy of equal prize money for pro men and women while simultaneously judging female triathletes based on looks rather than ability, shunning pro female triathletes from magazine covers if they “weren’t pretty enough.”

• Kyrsten Sinema, Congresswoman and Senator-Elect from Arizona: In order from least to most difficult, it goes like this: run for Congress, train for and complete an Ironman, run for Senate.

• Meredith Atwood, a.k.a. Swim Bike Mom: “Words are the house you live in” (although she did attribute the quote to someone whose name she acknowledge she couldn’t quite pronounce). If we look in the mirror and criticize our body’s appearance rather than celebrate its strength, we are going down the wrong path.

• Me, a person who apparently doesn’t set goals unless I understand that they are achievable: I had no idea how many people’s stories include “I didn’t know how to swim or own a bike, but I signed up for a triathlon and here I am!”

Meredith Atwood,
a.k.a. Swim Bike Mom

• Dr. Stacy Sims, Environmental Exercise Physiologist and Nutrition Scientist specializing in sex differences with regards to performance: Women are not small men. It turns out that when you do tests and trials that only include male subjects, the results are often not applicable to women. For example: the common thinking on heat acclimation protocols and the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of ice baths is accurate for men, but not for women. (Want more info on what is applicable to women? Buy her book, ROAR – I just did.)

• Gabriela Gallegos, Race Director of the Mighty Mujer Triathlon: Let’s have the Wonder Woman version and not the Princess version. (Me: oh hell yes!)

Ultimately, the inaugural Outspoken: Women in Triathlon Summit was exactly what I anticipated it would be. I listened to stories from inspiring women, I made new connections with women across the spectrum of the triathlon community, and I had and heard stimulating conversations about where triathlon is today and where it needs to be tomorrow. The Summit provided an environment where one could raise provoking and sometimes challenging questions that might otherwise be reserved for one-on-one conversations. Panelists, speakers, and conference attendees alike stepped away from formal dialogue where certain topics are simply alluded to, and spoke in raw and honest and personal terms about sexism and empowerment, our strong and unique bodies, gender equality, and inclusion for minorities and transgender athletes.

Beyond that, the Summit provided an opportunity for each of us take ownership of growing the sport of triathlon and specifically the representation of women and minorities within the sport. After the closing brainstorming session, each participant – from the pro to the age grouper to the coach to the industry leader – left with actionable items, and a forum for reporting back on her progress. I am excited to see where these action items take us over the next year, and what stories and conversations those actions create for next year’s Summit.