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Yorkshire Ability Triathlon to encourage individuals with learning disabilities to discover triathlon


This coming weekend will see the first iteration of the newly developed Yorkshire Ability Triathlon, set-up specifically to encourage those with learning disabilities to give triathlon a go for the first time.

The event will take place at Leeds Beckett University, where participants will get the chance to use the campus 21-metre pool and eight-lane athletics track, which has been offered free of charge for the event. Entrants will be able to get the real triathlon experience and race at their own pace to the finish line, where Olympic medallists Jonny and Ali Brownlee will be waiting to award them with a well-deserved medal and finishers t-shirt.

PTWC (wheelchair) national champion in paratriathlon, Bret Crossley, is the Disability Inclusion officer for Triathlon England’s Yorkshire Regional Committee and has been involved in organising the triathlon. The event is under the GO TRI banner, meaning it’s considered part of a larger family of triathlon events focussed on inclusion of all abilities, ages and experience-levels. Crossley explained the event set-up for this Saturday:

“Depending on their age, they can do anything up to a certain distance in the pool and on the track. We’ll use the athletics track at the university for both the bike and run. We’ll also have an alternative activities area, as there may be participants who aren’t able to do one of the disciplines for whatever reason. For instance, the event in Newcastle had some participants in power chairs, so they were doing ball games. We’ll likely be doing that this time round, too.”

The event is run for those with disabilities, some of whom may not otherwise get the chance to try multisport and have the full race experience at standard events. “Because of the different needs that many of them will have, we have a narrower range of disabilities than we’d normally have to provide the best for them and to cater for their needs,” Crossley said.

“Participants will have mild to moderate learning disabilities, like those on the autism spectrum and with Down syndrome and it’ll be 8-17 year olds. The entry portal is still open until the end of Friday.”    

Other facilities and support will be available to the athletes and families, who are encouraged to come cheer on the participants or even get involved themselves. Copious volunteers and helpers will also be ready to assist, while additional facilities like quiet rooms will be available for participants to step away from the event and decompress if needed.

Crossley said: “We’ve got a wealth of volunteers, more than we need which is a great thing to have. We encourage the parents to come along and they can take part themselves, for instance if they wanted to be in the pool with their child. We also probably have enough volunteers to look after individuals one-to-one.”

For those first-timers nervous of giving triathlon a go, Crossley encourages them to give it a chance: “We will set it up so that they will succeed. They will get through the challenge. It’s an opportunity that they may not otherwise have; to be able to give them all the equipment that they will need and the facilities to do a swim, bike, run.”

Crossley shares the motivation behind developing the race: “It was inspired from a similar event being held in Newcastle, which has taken place on eight occasions. They’d grown that from a single participant to around 40. It was a very inspirational event, you’d just have a big smile on your facing seeing how much they’re all enjoying it. We thought why not try to do this in Yorkshire?”

It’s the hope that after this weekend, the event will continue to develop and expand in popularity. “We’re very much hoping that we’ll be able to turn it in time into a weekend festival. Hopefully the university will continue to allow us to use the facilities. We’d initially hoped for 60 participants but if we’ve got 22 this year, that’s a good start. Next year, let’s at least double it, it’ll just grow from there.”

For more information or to sign-up for the Yorkshire Ability Triathlon, take a look at the event website.

Images provided by the event.

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