Triathlon Makes Special Olympics World Games Debut

By Nicole Chrzanowski | July 20, 2015, 5:02 p.m. (ET)
For the first time in its 47-year history, the Special Olympics World Games will include triathlon as a part of the flagship event, which celebrates the abilities and accomplishments of athletes with intellectual disabilities. The 2015 World Games kick off in Los Angeles on July 25 with 7,000 athletes from 177 countries worldwide set to compete in the 25-sport lineup.

Triathlon will make its debut on July 26 as part of the Unified Sports Experience, where 19 Special Olympics athletes will compete side by side with elite triathletes, celebrities and multisport fans.

In total, nearly 300 athletes are expected to participate in the 1/2-mile swim, 11-mile bike, 3-mile run event in Long Beach, California. Special Olympics triathletes, including four U.S. athletes who qualified at the 2014 Special Olympics National Games, will begin in the first wave at 8 a.m. PT, followed by the general public in the second wave.

“I’m very excited for the Special Olympics. This is such a highlight for the athletes, and it’s been a catalyst for people to realize that not only do the Special Olympics provide opportunities for athletes, but it also allows them to challenge themselves and build self-esteem and become healthier, all within that organization,” said Lisa Rumer, head coach for the U.S. Special Olympics triathlon team.

Triathlon was introduced as a demonstration race at the 2014 National Games in New Jersey, and four of the 16 athletes who participated were selected to advance to Worlds. Noah Dellas (17), Benjamin Heitmeyer (25), Amy Noctor (27) and Courtney Dreyfus (18) have been training with Rumer for two years and are ready to represent the U.S. at the world’s largest sports and humanitarian event in 2015.

Both Dellas and Noctor were crowned national champions in New Jersey and are racing for gold in Los Angeles. Since the race in New Jersey, both have competed in several triathlons as part of their training. Dellas is currently in high school, but hopes to continue his education at Rutgers University as a member of the swim team. Additionally, he hopes to pursue a career in elite triathlon and has been putting in the work to get him there.  

“I have been doing a lot of everything,” Dellas said. “I’ve been swimming a lot, running a lot, biking a lot, as well as weight lifting and other workouts.”

Dreyfus is also a high school student looking to pursue further education at a university. She participated in her first triathlon more than three years ago, which has continued to fuel her as she competes in Special Olympics. Not only that, but she has enjoyed making friendships through triathlon and Special Olympics.

“I love training and getting stronger,” Dreyfus said. “I am also honored to represent my country and compete in the first triathlon in The Special Olympics World Games.”

   
   
   

 

Rumer believes she has a special opportunity when it comes to being the U.S. triathlon coach. All four athletes are based in New Jersey, which allows her to work one on one with each athlete as well as conduct team training.

“It’s really neat to be taking these four athletes who competed in the first demonstration event last year to actually go and compete against the rest of the world now in July,” Rumer said.

Spending so much time with the athletes for the past two years has allowed Rumer to experience first-hand the impact that the sport has had on them. Rumer has witnessed the athletes grow as individuals and become more empowered now that they are participating in triathlon.

“When we were at training camp in October, Amy said she was not in a great mood that morning. We went for a 5-mile run and then afterward she said, ‘Coach I’m in such a better mood.’ She was able to turn herself around all because she knew how good running was for her,” Rumer said.

Racing in the Unified Sports Experience provides extra motivation for Team USA athletes. Not only will they be racing against other Special Olympics athletes, but they will also be toeing the line with some of the best triathletes from all over the world. These teammates will bring increased competition and camaraderie on the course, and help encourage fans to show their support.

U.S. Olympians Hunter Kemper and Sarah Haskins showed their support by participating in the Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America, where three torches are carried across the country from the East Coast to Los Angeles for the World Games Opening Ceremonies. In total, the torches travel 20,492 miles with the purpose of bringing our nation together for awareness and understanding of the Special Olympics mission, which is to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people.

“I am most excited to cheer on the participants. Seeing the expressions on their faces as they cross that finish line; knowing they have achieved their goal will be inspiring. Including triathlon in the Special Olympics continues to show how much triathlon is growing not just in elite ranks, but becoming mainstream in everyday sport and fitness,” Haskins said.

U.S. triathletes are excited to make history by participating in the inaugural Special Olympics World Games Triathlon and are even more excited to take in the experience around them. This will be each athlete’s first Special Olympics World Games. Dellas, Dreyfus and Heitmeyer will be participating in more than one event at the Games, including aquatics, open water swimming and cycling.

“I am looking forward to just about everything,” Heitmeyer said. “I’ve never been to California. I am really looking forward to meeting athletes from other countries and having new adventures.”

U.S. Special Olympics triathlon team photos by Marco Catini Photography.