First-Ever Triathlon Exhibition Comes to 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games

Swimming event at the 2015 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Dallas.Sixteen Veteran wheelchair athletes will test their strength and endurance in swimming, cycling and road racing at the 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games’ first-ever Triathlon exhibition.

The three-stage race – featured at the 2016 Games taking place June 27-July 2, in Salt Lake City – will guide participants through a 200M swim, 10K cycling and 2.5K road race. The first-time exhibition event will take place Thurs., June 30, at Liberty Park in downtown Salt Lake City.

“I brought up the idea at the 33rd Games in Tampa of doing triathlon as an exhibition, and leadership helped make that idea a reality quickly,” said Andy MacDonald, associate sports director for Paralyzed Veterans of America and a nine-time Ironman triathlon finisher. MacDonald – who helped stand up and coach the triathlon team at Georgetown University – will serve as head official for the exhibition.

Paratriathlon’s emergence as an adaptive sport is evidenced by its debut at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Paralympic athletes will compete in a sprint distance race involving a 750M swim, 20K cycling and 5K road race.

While a new Paralympic sport, the triathlon exhibition at the NVWG will not be limited to elite athletes. The exhibition was designed to help Veterans in every community across the United States seize the opportunity for regular daily exercise as well as participation in cycling races and other community events.

“The hope is that the event educates and motivates our Veterans beyond the week in Salt Lake City,” MacDonald said.

A first-year exhibition sport at the Games, triathlon will be a non-medal event. Racers will compete in either the Quad Open or Para Open, and male and female categories. The race will reflect USA Paratriathlon guidelines for Super Sprint distance.

Athletes will begin the competition with a 200-meter pool swim (two-four laps), after which they will transfer to their wheelchair to transition to the handcycle race. Once there, athletes will transfer to their handcycles and take off for the 10K bike course. After an athlete has crossed the bike dismount line, he or she will transfer back into their wheelchair to travel to their race chair/gear to compete the final 2.5-mile run course.

Athletes are finished once the finish line is crossed in their race chair.

As exhibition events must take place twice at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games before they can be designated as medal events, coordinators will review the 2016 triathlon exhibition and make necessary improvements in advance of a second exhibition at the 37th Games in Cincinnati in 2017, MacDonald said.

It’s unclear how athletes will perform in the exhibition, MacDonald added, as most have competed in swimming, racing or handcycling but not necessarily all three or in a triathlon format. Army Veteran Holly Koester – the first person in a wheelchair to compete in marathons in all 50 states – is sure to stand out in the racing and handcycling portions, he said.

“This is Holly’s first triathlon ever,” he said. “Once she gets on the handcycle and push rim, she’s going to be like Moses separating the Red Sea. She’s a rocket.”

For information and rules on the Triathlon exhibition at the 36th NVWG, click here.

The 36th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) – co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America – will feature 19 wheelchair sporting events and two exhibition sports for disabled Veterans June 27-July 2, 2016, in Salt Lake City.

Brittany Ballenstedt is a military spouse, freelance journalist and photographer in Washington, D.C.