SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Nearly 50 paratriathletes from five different countries participated Saturday in the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) World Paratriathlon San Diego, the first of three international paratriathlon races offered by the International Triathlon Union in 2013.
The race helps to set the stage for athletes who already have their sights set on the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where paratriathlon will make its debut on the Paralympic program.
"I love that our sport is starting to get a little more credibility," said Patricia Walsh, a TRI-6a competitor from Austin, Texas. "What I see is the numbers have doubled in the past two years, so I think what's happening is we're starting to get some of those really elite athletes from other sports and disciplines like Paralympic swimming, Paralympic cycling. As a result, we're seeing our competition really take a big jump, which I think we all wanted. It's really a fantastic time to be in paratriathlon."
A number of athletes are just starting to shift their focus to triathlon, with the USA Paratriathlon National Championships set for late May and the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in London in September. Aaron Scheidies, a TRI-6b athlete who hails from Seattle, Wash., just finished the Boston Marathon on Monday before jumping into his first multisport event in San Diego.
"It's good to be back," Scheidies said of his return to triathlon. "It's good to race on the paratriathlon circuit, and it's a good start on the road to Rio."
Paratriathlon has made great strides as a sport in recent years, but the athletes are still limited on the number of races featuring international-level competition in the U.S. Having one of just nine races on the ITU schedule here at home is special for local athletes.
"I'm from San Diego, so it's a big deal," said Jamie Brown (TRI-5, Carlsbad, Calif.) "That in conjunction with Gwen winning yesterday, it's an awesome experience for all of USA Triathlon. It was great - a lot of the ITU races are hard for my family to get to, so I have a lot of support here. It was a great chance for them to come and see me race here, and I couldn't ask for anything better."
In addition to CAF's role as a Title Sponsor for the race, the foundation also had members of its new elite paratriathlon team in attendance. Over the past 20 years, CAF has raised more than $40 million and satisfied close to 7,000 funding requests from physically challenged athletes.
"If it weren't for Challenged Athletes Foundation, paratriathlon wouldn't be where it's at today," said Mark Barr (TRI-2, Houston, Texas). "They're really pushing paratriathlon to the next level, so it's a huge honor to be on the elite team and I hope to represent them well."
Jim MacLaren, who was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame on Thursday, was the inspiration for the beginnings of CAF, and the organization continues to provide support to athletes who hope to break into sport instead of sitting on the sidelines.
"CAF was really born out of triathlon because of one man, one triathlete who was injured," said Sarah Reinertsen (Mission Viejo, Calif.), who has been competing in paratriathlon for 10 years. "This is such a great stage to show Californians, to show Americans, to show the world what paratriathletes can do."
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