Building an Inclusive Endurance Community

USA Triathlon's CEO Victoria Brumfield speaks to the importance of welcoming people from all communities into the endurance sports world.

Video Transcript

Victoria Brumfield 0:07

My name is Victoria Brumfield and I am the CEO of USA Triathlon. I think the identity of the typical endurance athlete has changed. When I first started doing sport, I think it was pretty binary. You were either a short-course athlete or you were a long-course athlete. It was core to your identity, and I think now we’re seeing so much intermixing, not only between distances, but you see it at the elite level. You see short-course athletes winning at long course, and you see long-course athletes transitioning to alternative formats, off-road, so that they have something that’s more compelling and engaging for them when they start to burn out on whatever it is they were training for previously.

I think the reality is when I talk to individuals, both athletes and coaches, we’re seeing a lot of people coming into the sport who are excited about participating in, and staying in shorter-course formats and also not just traditional swim, bike, run, but we have swim-run events, we have bike-run events, and really building back the excitement and enthusiasm and prestige around events like duathlon.

The Triathlon Demographic Is Changing

Victoria Brumfield 01:14

The typical demographic has been perceived, and still is, a middle-aged person, probably white, probably more affluent. The truth is, while that’s still the primary audience in our sport, it’s changing. We at USA Triathlon are hugely focused on not only making sure that we are promoting and amplifying the sport to underserved communities, but that we’re representing athletes in the sport that truly do come from alternative backgrounds, from both an age demographic and economic background. I do feel that that’s growing and changing. When I talk to athletes and coaches who are working and racing in underserved communities, what they’re telling me is they’re actually seeing really dynamic, tight-knit communities developing in their areas around the sport. I think that that’s really promising.

Coaches are essential to the growth of the sport, and this is why it’s actually so important for us at USA Triathlon to think about diversifying their education and their resources and tools so that when they’re working with athletes, they can not only identify a potential athlete in the right pathway and journey for them, but as they’re going through that journey, they can help visualize new opportunities for them so that they stay engaged.

I think about personally my own path is I started in short-course racing and I moved to bike racing. Then I came back to triathlon and I did long-course racing, and then I went to gravel racing. I keep coming back to triathlon because at its core, that’s what I love.

I love swimming and biking and running and putting those three things together in a way that makes my body feel balanced. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something really unique and special beyond just participating in a local 5K. But I also believe that having a coach that can help guide me through incorporating other experiences like the local 5K or a trail race or off-road racing or training. That’s what’s made it so engaging for me to stay in the sport for more than 20 years, where it’s still the core of how I live my life. Every day for me is structured around exercise that incorporates and supports and endurance lifestyle.

The Symbiotic Relationship Between Coaches and Athletes

Victoria Brumfield 03:29

While we exist to provide value and support to coaches, they provide value and support right back to us, as well as the broader community. Examples of that are a few coaches I can think of—Chris Palmquist, this incredibly talented athlete and professional coach, who was focused on long-course racing. She went through our education pathway around paratriathlon, and now she’s a world-class paratriathlon coach. She’s on the Paratriathlon Committee for World Triathlon, and she’s been one of the global influencers in getting mixed relay into paratriathlon.

Reggie Waller has brought together a group of women who were typically underserved or underrepresented in the sport. Now because he’s brought these women together, they are now going to go form a club for women of color. I think there’s a lot of examples of coaches doing great work on their own where we support them with education but they also support us to say, here’s where there’s demand, help provide us with tools and resources to further develop these athletes.

One other example is a coach, Hector Torres, who is a coach that we work very closely with, who has seven neuro-diverse athletes that are juniors and young adults. He came to us and said, look, if you add a neuro-diverse category at your youth and junior championship, I’ll not only bring these athletes, but let’s grow it, and we ended up hosting the first ever neuro-diverse wave at our youth and junior nationals.

This past year, Hector brought his seven athletes and that field grew to 12 athletes, and it was a life-changing experience for them. Now not only are those athletes going to come back and compete with us again in the future at Nationals but we’re going to continue to grow that area of support for athletes. So we have a responsibility to make sure that the people who are participating in the sport have opportunities for leadership roles in the sport, and that we also make a point of making sure that they are visible and we amplify their stories so that others who identify with them feel the potential in themselves, the opportunity in the excitement and the curiosity of “Is that possible for me too?”

Endurance Sports for All

Victoria Brumfield 05:40

One of the things that we’ve done is we created, I believe we were the first national governing body to do this, but we created a non-binary category, not only in our membership system, but also in our national championships, making sure that every athlete has the opportunity to show up and race and compete for the joy of sport as they identify and as they feel safe and as they feel included.

That’s been so important to us. Part of this gender inclusion policy as well is thinking about how we approach supporting and welcoming trans athletes. That’s something that we take great pride in, making sure that we are accessible to all athletes, no matter how they identify. One of the ways that USA Triathlon is supporting that is not only through education, but also through a new certification that we’re creating that provides not only tools and language that you can use to invite others in to come find you and to work with you, but also iconography to show that you are welcoming of the LGBTQ community, you are welcoming of the BIPOC community, that you are welcoming to women or other communities that are maybe less served within the sport. I think that that’s really important because not only is the sport intimidating, but having somebody come into your life and the intimate relationship that you have with the coach, that’s intimidating as well. So it’s really important for coaches to not only open up their arms to all people participating in the sport, but make sure that they’re representing themselves as somebody who is inclusive and welcoming.

Changing the “Superhuman” Perception

Victoria Brumfield 07:13

One of the biggest barriers of entry to the sport is the perception, the perception that you have to be superhuman and that you have to go and do these really long endurance experiences that require a lot of equipment, a lot of time, and a lot of resources. The reality is that isn’t true. There’s a small percentage of people who participate at the long distance and at the highest level, but the vast majority of people participating in triathlon are doing short-course racing, and they’re doing it in a way that’s enjoyable and it’s fun.

Yes, you can have this high-tech equipment like power meters and technology in your bike and your trainers and all of this other equipment, they can elevate your performance. But something that’s really important for coaches to be successful is to meet athletes where they are. Not every athlete wants to progress on that pathway to speed and performance. What a lot of athletes want is just to have a healthy lifestyle that includes diversity of swimming and biking and running, as well as the occasional challenge that gives you a sense of accomplishment and keeps you motivated throughout the journey.