Race Officials Enjoy Rewarding Experiences

By brenda barrera | Sept. 11, 2014, 3:22 p.m. (ET)
As I placed my cleats and running shoes on my transition area towel at a sprint race this past weekend, the announcer called out a few race numbers: “If this is your number, your bike is not racked correctly, please come back to the transition area.”

It wasn’t mine but served as a helpful reminder as I double-checked that my bike was indeed in the correct spot for #286. Administering USA Triathlon rules such as Article 7.2 “Placement of Equipment” is just one of many duties a USA Triathlon Certified Official has on race day. Not only do they enforce the competitive rules, they also educate and inform and yes, even calm pre-race jitters for nervous newbies. Many women officials are leading the way in making sure the race day experience is as fair as possible for all participants. Below are a few leaders who share the challenges and rewards of this important role.
 
ANN SNOEYENBOS
Senior Coordinator from Towson, Md.
Official Level: CAT 1

Ann has been an official since 1999 and was certified at St. Anthony's Triathlon in Florida. She had just started to race ultra-distance events and because of that training, could not race as frequently as her friends. Officiating got her out on the course without compromising her training, plus she enjoyed having her own unique “race stories” to share with friends.
 
What are the most rewarding parts of being an official?
"When I feel like I've helped to maintain a level playing field for the athletes, that's a good feeling."
 
What is the most challenging part of the job?

"Dealing with angry athletes. The angriest ones usually do not know the rules."
 
Can you share a memorable race experience?
"I remember seeing a flock of vultures eating a dead deer on the road with athletes having to swerve around because the vultures weren't moving for anybody. Another great memory is flying up Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on a beautiful sunshiny day on the back of a motorcycle with the elites working the stagger rules with elegance."
 
Advice for women interested in becoming an official:
"You don't have to be a triathlete to be an official but it does help. Officiating is a great way to learn about the sport because you see all the different ways athletes do their thing on the course."
 
SHAELYN HAAG from Florida Region
Official Level: CAT 1

Shaelyn has been an official for more than two years and was inspired to become involved by her sister, Susan Haag, who is currently on the USA Triathlon Board of Directors and the liaison for the Women’s Committee. At the time of this writing, she is the first and only female CAT 1 official in Florida.
 
What are the best aspects or most rewarding parts of being an official?
"The majority of triathletes are so welcoming and supportive of anyone who would like to try the sport. I have seen numerous athletes go to her/his trunk to find an item that someone else forgot (or didn't know they needed) and share it without hesitation. I also enjoy the educational opportunity of explaining the rules and the purpose behind enforcing the rules. We wish every athlete a safe and outstanding event and desire to do our part to keep the course safe."
 
What is the most challenging part of the job?

"When athletes take the penalty personally and feel that the officials or other athletes will consider them 'cheaters.' As an official I observe behaviors and penalize those behaviors that violate the rules. It is not personal for me."
 
Advice for women interested in becoming an official:
"If you have an interest, you can do it."
 
LUCY HARR, Midwest Coordinator
Official Level: CAT 1

Lucy has been an official since 2000. She and her husband were volunteers at a couple of triathlons in Madison, Wisconsin, and learned the region was critically short of officials so they signed up for training in Chicago and doubled the number of officials in the region, from two to four. Today, the number has since grown to 37 officials in the Midwest.
 
What are the best aspects or most rewarding parts of being an official?
"I enjoy responding to questions about the rules in transition prior to the race. Education is a key part of our responsibilities and I like seeing light bulbs go on over the heads of athletes when they finally understand a rule and its rationale. And, it’s always nice when athletes come up after the race and thank us for being there."
 
What is the most challenging part of the job?
"When athletes bring their spouses, coaches, parents or significant others to the penalty board to advocate for them instead of taking responsibility for the penalty. We want to make sure the athlete understands why they received the penalty so they can prevent it at a future race. Most athletes are very respectful and just want to understand what the infraction is."
 
Memorable moments are mostly weather related:
"The 2001 Elkhart Lake Triathlon in Wisconsin was in June but it was a cold one – the temperatures were in the high 30s and low 40s. My fingers were blue even without going out on the motorcycle. Also, at the 2005 Age Group National Championships in Kansas City, Missouri, I was the first female head referee and the race had to be canceled due to thunderstorms. And then in 2012 at the Hy-Vee Triathlon in Iowa it was hot. Luckily, consuming lots of delicious pineapple saved the day for me."
 
Advice for women interested in becoming an official:
"Women — please consider becoming an official. You are well-suited if you are fair-minded and want to help ensure a clean competition. You will work with some amazing people and learn something new at every race you officiate."
 
LISA LAMBETH, Mid-Atlantic South Coordinator
Official Level: CAT 2

Lisa became an official in 2009 and then the Regional Officials Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic South Region in 2010.  A longtime competitor, she has since had foot surgeries and does not know if she’ll be able to compete again, but says as a race official she can still be involved in the sport.
 
What are the best aspects or most rewarding parts of being an official?
"Initially when I became an official, I was afraid that my triathlete friends and race acquaintances would no longer see me the same way, but nothing could have turned out more different. Instead, I have the respect and admiration of my peers and appreciation from many whom I've never met before. My favorite part of being an official is doing pre-race meetings and helping educate racers about the USA Triathlon rule set. I also enjoy early mornings in transition with nervous newbie triathletes asking for help and being able to allay their worries."
 
What is the most challenging part of the job?

"Staying calm in the face of an angry triathlete and explaining why a penalty was given is not the most enjoyable experience. This rarely occurs but when it does, it can be quite intense."
 
Can you share a memorable race experience?
"The first Iron-distance race I worked was in 2010 and I was up at 4 a.m. By 10:30 a.m. it was sleeting and 12 hours later I was waiting in a line to get back to my car. I fell asleep exhausted by midnight. Officiating has introduced me to many wonderful people and experiences and I hope to continue it for many years to come."
 
Advice for women interested in becoming an official:
"Step up and do it. Those involved with officiating will find that it greatly enhances the triathlon community and your place in it."
 
KIMBERLE LEVIN, Mid-Atlantic North Coordinator
Official Level: CAT 1

Kimberle has been an official for nine years. She credits meeting Charlie Crawford, USA Triathlon Commissioner of Officials, at the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon for the decision to become an official.
 
What are the best aspects or most rewarding parts of being an official? 
"Ensuring there is an equal and fair playing field for everyone."
 
What is the most challenging part of the job?
"Athletes not understanding the rules and wanting to loudly get their point across as to why a particular rule doesn’t apply to them."
 
Can you share a memorable race experience?
"Several years ago I was working a race and met an athlete who was the first one in transition. He had his suitcase of race stuff, was very nervous, and asked many questions — it was his first triathlon. He shared with me that he didn’t tell any friends or family he was racing in case he didn’t finish. I encouraged him to focus on his own race, have fun and assured him he would be fine. I didn’t see him again until the following weekend, at another race, when he introduced me to his parents. Today I see him (along with a large support crew of family and friends) at many events. He said it was after that first race, where our officiating crew was so nice and helpful to him, he knew he wanted to continue in the sport. It’s moments like those that make getting up early, soaked in the rain, hot and sweaty in the heat, all worth it."
 
MERRY PRATHER, South-Midwest North Coordinator
Level: CAT 1

Merry was a race director looking to be a better race director so she signed up for an officials clinic to better understand the rules of the sport. She met Charlie Crawford, USA Triathlon Commissioner of Officials, and was so inspired and enjoyed the experience that that she’s been an official for the past 10 years.
 
What are the best aspects or most rewarding parts of being an official?
"Getting to watch and teach new athletes coming into the sport."

What is the most challenging part of the job?
"Trying to help a disgruntled athlete understand penalties called against them."

Can you share a memorable race experience?
"I was officiating the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships race where the weather took a turn for the worst right before the race and the water temperature was in the 50s. The athletes from southern states were not prepared and a young woman from a Florida school was crying because she didn't have a wetsuit with her. 'I would have swam if it were just 60 degrees but 54 degrees is too cold.' And then she dropped out of the race. I remember thinking how sad it was that she had prepared for this championship race and then didn't get to race it. Weather is a big part of triathlon!"
 
Advice for women interested in becoming an official:
"I would tell them the same as I would a male — this [officials] program provides the ability to see what goes on behind the scene and to think about triathlon in a different way."
 
DANETTE HARRINGTON, Pacific Northwest Coordinator
Official Level: CAT 1

Danette has been an official since 2002 and was influenced by become an official by her best friend Deborah.
 
What are the best aspects or most rewarding parts of being an official?

"Being able to answer questions for new triathletes."

What is the most challenging part of the job?
"Officiating a race without a motorcycle."

Advice for women interested in becoming an official:
"Be strong."
 
For more information about becoming a USA Triathlon Certified Official, including upcoming clinics, click HERE.
 
About the USA Triathlon Women’s Committee

The USA Triathlon Women’s Committee is focused on creating a resource for female athletes of all levels and socioeconomic backgrounds by mentoring professional growth for women in the sport of triathlon. The Women’s Committee is concentrating on the quality of training as well as opportunities available for women in positions of authority and decision-making within associations that govern the sport. The WC is a national committee of women from all over the U.S. with a variety of professions and diverse levels of participation in triathlon.
For more information: Find us on Facebook or visit our webpage by clicking HERE.