Monday, March 3, 2014

The Newest Popularity Contest?

When I got involved in multisport 8 years ago, the thing that made me fall in love with the sport was the people and spirit behind the competition. My first triathlon, a sprint, brought me to absolute tears on the 5k run because I hurt and I knew I was going so slow, and it was so much harder than I thought it was going to be. After the turnaround at the half way point, I saw all of these people that were behind me in the race. And yet, as soon as they saw the tears in my eyes, so many yelled to cheer me on and encourage me to finish. People that I was beating! I couldn't believe it. Since then, I remember that day and tell that story because it represents what I believe is the true spirit of triathlon.

I, like many newbies, was often overwhelmed at all the choices involved with getting started in triathlon. Bikes, accessories, training spots, coaches, training theories, clubs, bike shops... the list can go on and on. And sometimes, unfortunately, your choices will determine your place in the triathlon community of your town. It's like rooting for sports teams from opposites sides of the tracks. What races we choose to do, what uniform we decide to wear, and the people we choose to ride with all of a sudden place these dividers in the community. Even on race day, it becomes us vs. them. Now, I am all for some friendly competition. It is in fact part of the reason we do this. However, let's be serious, 99.9% of us are not pros, and probably never going to be. We do this for fun, to better ourselves, to teach our children about living a healthy lifestyle, and to push ourselves to be the best that we can be.

I am saddened lately by all the things I have been seeing that do nothing to contribute to the spirit of the sport, but instead create cliques that I haven't seen since high school. A new event in Atlanta has encouraged this child-like behavior. The new Gear and Glimmer event which is "Part cocktail party; part multisport awards & fashion show" is one more opportunity for a popularity contest. I will give credit that the $45 ticket for entry partially goes to charity. However, if that is the point, there are much better ways to raise a lot more money. The event is supposed to take the place of the SEE-ME (Southeast Endurance and Multisport Expo) which brought together various training clubs, stores, event management companies, etc. Pretty much anyone that wanted to set up a tent, could. It was a great place for newbies and anyone else to get info on upcoming races, new products, and converse with like-minded people, for about $5. Now, we have a new socialite event that pins groups against groups, athletes against athletes. The way to win the awards that they are offering? By how many "likes" you get.

I try to stay pretty apolitical so that I can remain neutral in this sport that I just like to enjoy participating in. But I have to speak my mind on this one as I feel we are going down a very slippery slope. While I congratulate all those nominated for awards, I'm sure there are plenty of others that worthy of awards that are not listed here. And sadly, there's not even any kind of sportsmanship award to honor the most important factor of all this. The one who's out there cheering til the very last finisher; the one that gives his bike to another that's broken down; and all the other stories of inspiring individuals. So, until this model for recognition is changed, I will keep my $45, and continue to support anyone that deserves it, on course and off. I hope at least some of you will join me in attempting to redirect the course of this triathlon community back to that thing I found so unique, intriguing, and magical when I started.