This story originally appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of USA Triathlon Magazine.
The low point for Sarah True came last summer. A year removed from being forced to bow out early in the race at the 2016 Rio Games, True fell into a dark, deep, depressive state.
True is no stranger to depression — the two-time Olympic triathlete had been battling the disease since she was a teenager. But this was a hole more cavernous, more dark and more hopeless than she had ever fallen into.
She felt she was a failure. As an athlete. And as a wife, convinced she failed her husband Ben True, who missed qualification for the 2016 Olympic team. Triathlon wasn’t fun anymore. Life outside sport had no joy. Her training suffered. She couldn’t sleep. Suicidal thoughts ran through her mind.
“Maybe I’ll just swerve into oncoming traffic,” she thought during training rides near her home in Hanover, New Hampshire. One head-on collision with a truck could just end it all.
“Everything was a struggle. I was in a really, really dark place and I felt like it just wasn’t going to get better,” said True, 36.
You can’t “out tough” depression
A professional athlete, an Olympian, a competitor in IRONMAN, one of the most physically and mentally grueling endurance tests humans have created, and here is True contemplating her worth in this world.
But depression knows no boundaries.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year, an estimated 16.2 million adults in the U.S. experience a major depressive episode. And an estimated 40 million adults live with anxiety disorders.
The incidence of those conditions, often linked, in the endurance sports population is probably similar, as a 2017 review of research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found no difference in depressive symptoms between what the researchers called “high-performance athletes” and nonathletes. Age-groupers or Olympic-caliber, all levels of athletes are affected. Michael Phelps, who has won more Olympic medals than anyone on this planet, has publicly spoken about his depression and thoughts of suicide.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Triathlon has increased its investment in anti-doping efforts for age-group athletes as part of an initiative launched earlier this year with support from the USA Triathlon Board of Directors. The USA Triathlon Compete Clean campaign, implemented in collaboration with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), focuses on education, awareness and accountability for amateur triathletes competing in USA Triathlon sanctioned events.
As part of the program, USA Triathlon has expanded its testing at age-group races across the country, including but not limited to national championships and ITU World Championship qualifiers in several multisport disciplines.
“I am really thrilled with the progress we’ve made over the past year in expanding our anti-doping programs to an entirely new level for age-group athletes,” said Chuck Graziano, USA Triathlon Board Member, Certified Coach and head of USA Triathlon’s Anti-Doping Steering Committee. “We are not only testing and deterring the intentional use of performance-enhancing substances, but also providing education and resources to our athletes on the ill effects of doping and what constitutes doping. Many athletes may not be aware that a prescription they’re taking might be banned — unless an exemption is granted — or that a supplement they’re taking might contain a banned substance. This important new program helps to protect the health of our athletes and ensure a level playing field.”
USA Triathlon supported the formation of an Anti-Doping Task Force to evaluate the organization’s clean sport programs and provide recommendations for future direction. The eight members included Graziano, who served as the Task Force Chair; Chris Bowerbank, USA Triathlon former Level II Race Director and Regional Chair; Matthew Fedoruk, Chief Science Officer at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency; Andrew Getzin, USA Triathlon Head Team Physician; Courtney Kulick, USA Triathlon National Team Program Manager; Kate Mittelstadt, Director of the IRONMAN Anti-Doping Program; Steve Sutherland, Chair of the USA Triathlon Age Group Committee; and Jon Whiteman, USA Cycling Risk Protection Manager.
Based on the recommendations of the Task Force, the Board of Directors approved $100,000 in funding for USA Triathlon to implement significant new programming in 2018.
The Steering Committee, which is overseeing the timeline and implementation of that programming, retains many members of the initial Task Force — including Bowerbank, Fedoruk, Graziano, Kulick, Mittelstadt and Whiteman. Leslie Buchanan, Director of Anti-Doping at the International Triathlon Union, has also joined the effort.
“USA Triathlon is proud to have the support of the Board of Directors, as well as a diverse Steering Committee, in our efforts to protect clean athletes and prevent issues of doping in multisport,” said Rocky Harris, USA Triathlon CEO. “We look forward to driving awareness among our age-group community, while at the same time elevating the organization’s clean sport outreach as a whole.”
“We are very supportive of USA Triathlon’s efforts to promote clean sport across all levels of competition,” said Travis Tygart, USADA CEO. “In addition to its regular USADA-run anti-doping program, it is investing in anti-doping education for both elite and amateur triathletes. This not only helps ensure that athletes, coaches and others are prepared to compete clean, but also helps create a culture of clean sport.”
USA Triathlon has implemented the following as part of the Compete Clean campaign:
Hiring of Full-Time Staff Member Dedicated to SafeSport and Anti-Doping Initiatives: Shelbi Meyer was hired in June and serves as a direct liaison to USADA, working closely with USADA’s education and testing departments to implement best practices and coordinate testing at USA Triathlon-sanctioned events.
Education and Awareness Resources: USA Triathlon has communicated with its members on anti-doping topics throughout the year via e-newsletter, the quarterly USA Triathlon Magazine, social media and a promotional video featuring IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion Andy Potts and 2016 Paralympic gold medalist Allysa Seely. USA Triathlon is also sharing printed educational materials and video content to address age-group athletes’ most common anti-doping questions and concerns, such as checking medications, obtaining a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) and making smart choices around supplements. Athletes at the elite and age-group levels have been involved in the campaign as ambassadors, wearing “Compete Clean” shirts at events around the world including the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Gold Coast, Australia, and the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
USADA Education Staff at National Events: Representatives from USADA’s education department were onsite at the 2018 USA Triathlon Sprint and Olympic-Distance Age Group National Championships in Cleveland; the Art & Science of Triathlon International Coaching Symposium in Tempe, Arizona; and the USA Triathlon Multisport National Championships in Miami. At these events, USADA staff presented informational sessions to coaches and athletes, shared educational resources and answered questions at an expo booth. USA Triathlon will continue to coordinate with USADA for education and awareness at competitions and industry events through the 2019 season and beyond.
Increased Testing for Age-Group Athletes: Age-group athletes are now tested with more frequency and in higher numbers at collegiate and national championship events, especially those that qualify top finishers for the ITU Age Group World Championships. If an athlete has reason to believe a competitor is using performance-enhancing substances, he or she can submit a tip to USADA’s Play Clean Tip Center at usada.org/playclean with an option to remain anonymous.
Industry Collaboration: The organization continues to work closely with USADA, other Olympic sport National Governing Bodies, IRONMAN and additional triathlon industry partners to share resources, best practices and experiences in promoting clean sport.
Beyond its outreach to age-group athletes, USA Triathlon is also offering detailed educational opportunities to coaches, race directors, USA Triathlon staff, medical personnel and support staff.
For more information about USA Triathlon’s clean sport efforts, and for a list of USA Triathlon members currently serving sanctions for anti-doping violations, visit usatriathlon.org/antidoping.
Additional anti-doping resources are available at usada.org. For educational content geared toward youth athletes, visit truesport.org.
About USA Triathlon
USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the National Governing Body for triathlon, as well as duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, off-road triathlon and paratriathlon in the United States. Founded in 1982, USA Triathlon sanctions more than 4,300 events and connects with more than 400,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work at the grassroots level with athletes, coaches, and race directors — as well as the USA Triathlon Foundation — USA Triathlon provides leadership and support to elite athletes competing at international events, including International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of the ITU and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Triathlon today announced the roster for the 2019 USA Paratriathlon Resident Team, an elite squad based at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Melissa Stockwell (Chicago, Ill.), Kendall Gretsch (Downers Grove, Ill.) and Kyle Coon (Carbondale, Colo.) will join current resident team athletes Allysa Seely (Glendale, Ariz.), Howie Sanborn (Denver, Colo.) and Hailey Danz (Wauwatosa, Wis.) as they train for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and other elite races on the International Triathlon Union circuit.
The resident team first opened its doors in April as the fifth Paralympic sport to call the Colorado Springs campus home. USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach Derick Williamson (Colorado Springs, Colo.) is the program’s head coach.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The United States Olympic Committee today announced USA Triathlon’s Paratriathlon Military Engagement Program as the recipient of its annual Diversity & Inclusion Choice Award.
Now in its fifth year, the D&I Choice Award recognizes an NGB or High Performance Management Organization (HPMO) for the creation of a single diversity and inclusion best practice or a series of diversity and inclusion best practices. After an internal USOC selection committee narrows down the submissions, finalists are put to a vote of representatives from NGBs and HPMOs across the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement.
USA Triathlon’s program received the highest number of votes, and the organization will be honored at a celebratory dinner on Friday, Sept. 21, as part of the 2018 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Triathlon and the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) have partnered to host the first-ever paratriathlon camp in Colorado Springs dedicated to athletes with visual impairments. Ten triathletes and ten guides from across the U.S. will travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center to participate in the three-day camp, set for Thursday, August 23, through Saturday, August 25.
The camp will focus on the para-specific dynamics of swimming, biking and running, as well as other aspects of triathlon performance (basic nutrition, transitions, goal-setting, etc.). Coaches will include seven-time ITU Paratriathlon World Champion Aaron Scheidies (Seattle, Wash.), 2017 USA Paratriathlon Coach of the Year and Paralympic Head Coach for Team USA, Mark Sortino (Boise, Idaho), and USA Triathlon certified coach, tandem pilot and triathlete Amanda Leibovitz (Bellingham, Wash.).
Visual impairment is one of six paratriathlon categories recognized by the International Paralympic Committee and includes athletes who are totally blind and athletes who are partially sighted but legally blind. Triathletes with visual impairments compete alongside a guide. During the swim, the guide and athlete are tethered together — usually at the thigh or hip. The athlete then rides behind his or her guide, or pilot, on a tandem bike before finishing the race on foot with a tether connecting athlete and guide.
The following athletes, among others, will be available for media interviews:
Lindsay Ball (Benton, Maine)represented the U.S. at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in alpine skiing. She is a two-time U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing national champion and was the 2012 Winter Park IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup bronze medalist. Ball completed her first triathlon in 2010, and is now beginning to pursue the sport competitively.
Kyle Coon (Carbondale, Colo.) has been a triathlete since 2015. He has completed three long-course (IRONMAN 70.3) and two ultra-distance (IRONMAN) triathlons, in addition to several sprint and Olympic-distance events. Coon’s best long-course finish came at IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder last year, when he won the men’s physically challenged division covering the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run in 5 hours, 11 minutes, 9 seconds.
Michael Somsan (Gilbert, Ariz.) is a retired U.S. Army First Lieutenant who lost his vision to a gunshot wound in 1995. Somsan was the top finisher in the men’s physically changed division at the 2016 IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. He has also completed IRONMAN Arizona (2015), IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside (2016) and several sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons.
MEDIA OPPORTUNITIES: Media representatives are invited to capture coverage of the camp and/or conduct interviews with participants to help raise awareness about the sporting opportunities available to individuals who are blind and visually impaired, and how these athletes’ lives are being positively impacted through sport.
A tentative list of opportunities is outlined below. Training sessions may be altered depending on weather and scheduling. Please contact Caryn Maconi (USA Triathlon) or Courtney Patterson (USABA) if you would like to attend any of the training sessions.
Thursday, Aug. 23:
4-6 p.m. Run Session (Roads TBD)
Friday, Aug. 24:
8-11 a.m. Bike Skills/Ride (Roads TBD)
1-3 p.m. Swim Session – Outdoor Pool at U.S. Olympic Training Center*
Saturday, Aug. 25:
8-11 a.m. Bike Skills/Ride (Roads TBD)
1-3 p.m. Swim Session – Outdoor Pool at U.S. Olympic Training Center*
3-4 p.m. Transition Skills (Roads/OTC)
USA Triathlon celebrated the accomplishments of four distinguished multisport athletes on Thursday night at the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The ceremony was held at Windows on the River in Cleveland, in conjunction with the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships taking place here Saturday and Sunday.
Four-time U.S. Olympian Hunter Kemper was the sole elite-athlete inductee, formally announcing his retirement from professional triathlon as part of the ceremony. Mike Reilly, the “Voice of IRONMAN,” and age-group multisport standouts Donna Smyers and James “Jim” Ward (posthumous), were also honored. The inductees, who make up the Hall of Fame’s ninth induction class, were joined by nearly 200 friends, family members and fans of triathlon for the evening of celebration.
Two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler and 1996 Olympic silver medalist Matt Ghaffari delivered the keynote speech. Ghaffari, a local Clevelander, spoke about what it means to be successful at the highest levels of amateur and professional sport. He emphasized the importance of self-improvement every day, a practice he valued throughout his storied athletic career.
“The first time I wrestled (Russian Aleksandr Karelin), I lost 11-1. The last time I wrestled him, it was overtime in the Olympic finals, 1-0,” Ghaffari said. “I could live with that. I closed the gap, I got better. If you take one message with you tonight: each day, strive to get better and better than yesterday. Today, just try to be better than yesterday, a little bit braver. Something different. Challenge yourself.”
USAT COLLEGIATE CLUB AND HIGH SCHOOL NATIONALS TUSCALOOSA, AL APRIL 27-28, 2018
Go to any high school or collegiate contest and you notice the unmistakable energy of youthful athletes and fans. School chants, fight songs and air horns fill the air, while flags, mascots and costumes create a visually vivid landscape. This weekend’s USA Triathlon Collegiate Club and High School Nationals delivered an experience that was exponentially more electric than your typical collegiate competition. A rolling sea of team tents covered 1100 athletes from 109 colleges. Schools from coast to coast brought their school spirit, competitiveness and the best demonstrations of sportsmanship at what is arguably the highest level of competition for High School and Collegiate triathletes.
While they competed fiercely for individual and team standings, athletes gave each other high-fives and hugs at the start and finish lines. They encouraged each other on the course and celebrated in the post-race ice bath pools. For all the competitive grit, sprint finishes, and gut-wrenching efforts, the culture of triathlon was evidenced in encouragement on the course and concern at the medical tent.
Due to heavy rainfall in Tuscaloosa the past two weeks, the Holt Dam spillway gates were opened by local officials to avoid flooding. Heightened volume in the Black Warrior River necessitated that the gates remain open through race weekend, resulting in overly strong currents that were deemed unsafe for swimming. USAT officials announced a course change mid-week. All races will be shifted from a triathlon (swim-bike-run) to a duathlon (run-bike-run) to ensure athlete safety.
Colorado teams had a great showing. At the Olympic distance, CU’s Men’s and Women’s teams came in second to the Naval Academy and UC Berkeley respectively. CSU Women placed 5th and Men 9th. USAFA Women came in 11th and Men’s 12th. Colorado School of Mines Women came in 47th and Men 55th. Combined scores put CU in 2nd, CSU in 7th, USAFA 9th and CSM in 49th.
CU Buffs Roy Madrid and Timothy Winslow finished 2nd and 3rd behind the University of California’s Sean Harrington, who took the Men’s race with a 1:33:58. The Women’s champion was Stephanie Murphy of US Naval Academy and CSU’s Katrina Lems was Colorado’s first Woman in 8th place. In the High School contest, Austin Podhajsky and Jack Deweerdt from Parker, Colorado took 2nd and 3rd respectively behind the Male winner Drew Shellenberger. Cassidy Hickey of Parker, Colorado took 2nd behind the Female winner Gillian Cridge.
For the 2018 National Championship season, USA Triathlon is excited to debut a new USA Triathlon Events app for Apple and Android smartphones. Through a new partnership with SportStats USA and Real Time Race Tracking (RTRT.me), USA Triathlon’s national events will be featured on the new app. Athletes, spectators, family, and friends will be able to follow the progress of athletes as they race through each of USA Triathlon’s National Championships. Though the whole season schedule will be listed, currently, only USA Triathlon’s four owned national championships will feature live athlete tracking in the app: Duathlon, Collegiate Club and High School, Youth and Junior, and Age Group National Championships.
Who knew? It’s simple, lightweight AND legal… and no, it’s not a safety device…
There is a tool that not only helps execute one of the most nerve-wracking disciplines of the sport but is also lightweight, inexpensive and legal to use in any USA Triathlon Sanctioned Race in the U.S. What is this magic device?
No one chooses triathlon it for its simplicity. With so many moving parts and countless pieces of equipment and gear, it’s easy to overlook or simply disregard an argument for one more thing to add to your seemingly endless packing list. However, there is a tool that not only helps execute one of the most nerve-wracking disciplines of the sport but is also lightweight, inexpensive and legal to use in any USA Triathlon Sanctioned Race in the U.S. What is this magic device? A snorkel.
A little-known fact is the snorkel is completely legal to use without restriction and without penalty in USA Triathlon racing events in the United States. We reached out to Certified Official Tom Reilly for full disclosure:
“Snorkels are legal equipment for use by triathletes under the USA Triathlon competitive rules. USAT rules outline what you cannot do versus what you can do. Swimming conduct is covered under Article IV in the USA Triathlon competitive rules. Nowhere under Article IV is the use of a snorkel prohibited. Note that 4.9 Illegal Equipment under Article IV, several things that cannot be used are specified during the swim. The use of a snorkel is not one of them. However, keep in mind that this applies only to events using USAT competitive rules. Others such as ITU and WTC may not allow snorkels.”
World Triathlon Series opener features thrilling sprint-distance course
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Eight American athletes are set to compete in the ITU World Triathlon Series opener in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Friday, taking on a stacked international field.
The sprint-distance race, which covers a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run, is held on the iconic Yas Island. The course is built for fast and furious racing, with portions of the bike and run taking athletes around the Yas Marina Formula One circuit. The elite men race first at 4:36 a.m. EST (1:36 p.m. local time), and the elite women follow at 6:36 a.m. EST (3:36 p.m. local time). Both races will be broadcast live online at triathlonlive.tv.
Five U.S. women will toe the line on Friday, including 2016 U.S. Olympian and 2017 WTS overall bronze medalist Katie Zaferes (Santa Cruz, Calif.). Zaferes had a stellar 2017 season that included two regular-season WTS podiums in Edmonton and Yokohama, in addition to her silver-medal performance at the Rotterdam ITU World Triathlon Grand Final.
Kirsten Kasper (North Andover, Mass.) and Summer Cook (Thornton, Colo.), who finished fourth and 10th respectively in the 2017 WTS rankings, will also look for strong season-opening performances. Kasper earned four top-five finishes on the WTS circuit last year, including a bronze in Yokohama.
Cook was also consistent in 2017, earning a season-best fourth-place finish at ITU World Triathlon Edmonton and placing ninth at the Grand Final in Rotterdam. She and Zaferes are the only two Americans on the start list who have reached the top step of the WTS podium, with Cook winning ITU World Triathlon Edmonton in 2016 and Zaferes taking the win at ITU World Triathlon Hamburg in 2016.
Also set to compete are Taylor Spivey (Redondo Beach, Calif.), who earned her first WTS medal with a silver in Leeds last year, and Chelsea Burns, who cracked the ITU Triathlon World Cup podium for the first time in 2017.
The U.S. women will be up against stiff competition, as 2017 world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda and 2017 WTS overall silver medalist Ashleigh Gentle of Australia lead the start list. Defending WTS Abu Dhabi champion Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand, Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth, Canada’s Joanna Brown and the Netherlands’ Rachel Klamer will also be medal threats. Visit wts.triathlon.org for a complete women’s start list.
Representing the U.S. in the men’s race are Kevin McDowell (Phoenix, Ariz.), Ben Kanute (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Tony Smoragiewicz (Rapid City, S.D.). McDowell will look to build on a successful stretch of late-season racing in 2017, which saw him earn podiums at ITU Triathlon World Cup races in Huelva, Spain, and Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida.
Kanute had a strong fall season in non-drafting races, placing second to Spain’s Javier Gomez at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in September and earning the overall win at the Island House Triathlon in November. He will look to improve upon his 16th-place performance at last year’s WTS Abu Dhabi stop.
Smoragiewicz is making his second career WTS start in Abu Dhabi; in his debut on the circuit last year in Edmonton, he placed 27th. Smoragiewicz was the top U.S. man at the 2017 ITU Under-23 World Championships last September, placing 13th.
The men’s international field is stacked, with 2017 world champion and 2016 WTS Abu Dhabi champion Mario Mola of Spain holding the No. 1 spot. Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway, the 2017 world bronze medalist, and Great Britain’s Jonathan Brownlee, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist, are also both set to compete.
Visit wts.triathlon.org for a complete men’s start list.
ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi is the first of eight stops on the regular-season WTS circuit before September’s ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Gold Coast, Australia.