Outside the Lanes

Usually, I’m pretty excited when triathlon makes it into the mainstream sports media.  I think it’s great when media giants like ESPN take notice of what we’re up to.  However, I don’t subscribe to the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ school of thought.  So this article from ESPN’s Outside the Lines really made me cringe.  I’m actually a big fan of the show and its central premise.  I just know that swimming is a barrier to our sport for some people and this article really doesn’t scream, ‘come on in, the water’s warm.’


photo from the ESPN OTL article

To be fair, I witnessed one of the incidents cited in the article.  Dr. Wiggins.  It was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’ll never forget it.  I had a hard time thinking of anything else while finishing the article.  Does that make me over sensitive to the subject, yeah probably. I found the interactive graphic in the middle of the article especially powerful.

Schreeeeeech…(that’s the sound of me dragging out my soap box.)  I think the authors do a great job of describing the risks and responsibilities of the athletes, organizers, and  sanctioning bodies and identifying the gray areas (actual or perceived) in between.  I’ve always been firmly on the side that believes swim safety is the athlete’s responsibility.  If you don’t think the conditions are safe, you don’t have to go in the water.  I don’t care about the entry fee, or if everyone else is doing it.  Didn’t your mother ever ask you if you’d jump off a bridge just because everyone else is doing it?  Mine did, repeatedly.  I don’t think any athlete should leave it up to the race director to tell them what is safe and what isn’t.  I also think it’s incredibly unfair to ask race directors to judge safety based on the lowest common (or present) denominator.  It’s probably unfair to fellow competitors too.

Ultimately, I think people will see what they want to see in articles like this.  If you’re looking for a reason not to try triathlon, here you go.  If you already participate, you probably see how much safer it is than driving a car.  Hopefully, you see that the event organizers are looking for ways to mitigate the risks that are within their control.  I personally hope it makes all of us athletes a little more accountable for our actions and decisions.  At the very least it should remind us that we are making a choice.  This is fun, right?


About acbeeson

Professional engineer, passionate triathlete, once a runner always a runner, Husker fanatic but CO is the place to be!
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2 Responses to Outside the Lanes

  1. Ryan says:

    Nailed it on the head, bud.

    I feel that part of the problem is anxiety when it comes to open-water swimming. The only way to avoid that is by practicing in open-water simulation. Swimming by yourself in lap lanes is not the way to do it. When in the pool, try to get as many people as you can in a lane with you. Masters is phenomenal for that; when there’s 7 of you in a lane you’re bound to knock hands, get used to toes being tapped, and get used to somebody swimming very fast in the opposite direction as you.

    A little chop on the water should not prevent a swim from happening. And there needs to be more athlete accountability. If YOU don’t feel safe, that doesn’t mean the swim should be cancelled. That means that if the race director feels the race should go forward, YOU should make the call based on your ability and comfort. Similar to knowing the course; it is your responsibility.

    Then there’s my issues with the new Swim Start program at WTC events; not knowing where you are relative to others, etc. That’s a simple change: move to gun-time for awards and Kona slots. That’s the way its done in running. If you’re going to call the program similar to a marathon start, etc. then you need to move your awards to the same process. None of this “I don’t know if this pass is actually for position within the race or if they’re ahead/behind me.” DUMB.

  2. Tri Madness says:

    Good post; thanks for linking to the ESPN article (I hadn’t seen it). What I walk away from the article thinking is that, sure, RD’s need to be concerned about swim safety – that they should implement certain safety protocols to endeavor to keep athletes safe (I especially like the concept of having swim buoys with the distance on them), but moreover that we, as athletes, MUST be in tune with our overall health conditions. The onus is firmly upon us to know if we are predisposed to cardiac issues. We must ensure that we’re properly trained. We must decide if a particular venue is safe or not, based upon our history, our athletic abilities, and mental readiness. One thing that some of the RD’s interviewed didn’t bring to light…and a potential game changer…is that RD’s could lessen the impact of an athlete making a decision to DNS based upon conditions. I understand that it’s difficult for a race to refund entry fees – but perhaps a deferral to the following year’s race might help an athlete make the binary “go, no-go” decision a little easier.

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