Believe it or not, no USA Triathlon-sanctioned paratriathlon club existed in the United States until Chicago’s very own dare2tri broke the mold in January 2011.
Created by three friends who shared a passion for adaptive sports and a vision to provide opportunities for athletes with disabilities to change their lifestyles, dare2tri did not begin with the intent to serve the hundreds of people that currently participate in the club’s practices, camps, clinics and races. In fact, co-founders Keri Serota, Dan Tun and Melissa Stockwell only expected the club to have 10 members at most.
But word quickly spread within and outside of the greater Chicago area after the club formed partnerships with the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association and the Chicago Park District. Before long, athletes ages 6 to 71 traveled from all around Illinois as well as southern Wisconsin to compete in paratriathlons, develop individualized training plans under the guidance of certified coaches and fulfill their personal fitness goals.
“Dare2tri is now one of the largest programs in the country recruiting, training and serving paratriathletes with physical disabilities and visual impairments,” Serota, executive director of dare2tri, says.
Athletes of all experience levels can become club members completely free of charge. A well-versed trainer of athletes with disabilities, USAT Level 1 certified coach Stacee Seay oversees more experienced club members that comprise dare2tri’s Elite Team. Elite Team members have participated in the annual Paratriathlon National and World Championships, where some have won gold, silver and bronze medals.
“One of my favorite aspects of dare2tri is being able to mentor kids with disabilities,” Brian Norberg, a dare2tri member and volunteer, says. “I really enjoy giving them advice and seeing them improve as the camp progresses.”
Furthermore, to honor former service members, including co-founder Stockwell, an above-the-knee amputee who previously served the nation in the Iraq War and received a Purple Heart, dare2tri strives to pique veterans’ interests in triathlons in hopes of helping them lead healthy, active lives in spite of their injuries and consequent disabilities.
“Each of dare2tri’s coaches show athletes what they can still do, even with physical disabilities,” Stockwell, also a USAT Level I certified coach, says. “Whether they are seeking swimming, biking, or running advice and assistance, our coaches will work with them and help them cross the finish lines of their future triathlons.”
Training opportunities for athletes of all experience levels
Novice and intermediate club members also have access, either online or in person, to individualized training plans initiated and overseen by dare2tri coaches. Novice plans introduce members to the overall triathlon training process, typically lasting from four to eight hours per week. Intermediate plans, on the other hand, provide experienced triathletes more time to train and condition, often for eight to 12 hours a week.
Dare2tri offers its members two training sessions each week throughout the year, including summertime bike and run (or push racing) practices at 31st Street Harbor and open water swims at Ohio Street Beach, as well as wintertime pool and gym practices.
“Most of the swim and bike training is very low impact, so it’s a great way for anyone wanting to become physically active to begin their triathlon training regimens,” Norberg says. “The club also provides any adaptive equipment that is needed to get started.”
Every June, both dare2tri club members and other paratriathletes have the opportunity to take part in the three-day dare2tri Paratriathlon Training Camp. Participants travel from all regions of the United States, attending two-day clinics focused on swimming, cycling/handcycling and running/pushing, amongst other topics. During the final day of the camp, each participant utilizes the knowledge and experience they gained throughout the clinics by actually competing in the annual dare2tri Tri It Triathlon.
If athletes can’t attend the camp, they also have an opportunity to participate in another training event, the One Day Multisport Clinic, held every March in Highland Park and open to the public. Throughout the day, participants train with certified coaches while receiving advice on swimming, cycling, running, yoga and functional strength training.
Each of these training opportunities, camps and clinics culminate in five or six community races in which club members usually participate. This year, members competed in the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon, the ITU World Triathlon Chicago and the Wauconda Triathlon, and later this month will take on both the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon and the Fox Island Triathlon in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which serves as the 2014 USAT Mideast Paratriathlon Regional Championship.
Inspiring athletes to improve every aspect of their lives
These recreational and competitive triathlon opportunities empower athletes with disabilities to achieve more than they ever thought possible, all while positively impacting each aspect of their lives.
“Physically, participants are stronger and lead healthier lives. Emotionally, they feel better about themselves, while setting and working towards goals. And socially, they are more connected with people – with and without disabilities – who share common interests, as they get outside and enjoy life,” says Serota.
“Being able to witness the growth of these paratriathletes is so fulfilling,” Tun says. “And knowing you are part of an organization that is able to provide opportunities to maintain the health and well-being of individuals with a physical disability is incredible.”
Norberg, for example, lost 25 pounds within a few months of joining dare2tri.
“When I first joined, I was out of shape and not leading a very healthy lifestyle,” Norberg says. “But after one full season as a team member, I qualified to race for Team USA in two races this summer, including a fifth-place finish at the Elite Paratriathlon.”
Norberg’s involvement with dare2tri actually began when he looked for an opportunity to volunteer in the Chicago area. He soon learned he could volunteer for the club and participate in events as a member all at once.
“For anyone looking for a volunteer opportunity, I recommend dare2tri because every event is a fun and rewarding experience,” Norberg states. “Volunteers get to see lots of inspiring athletes, help them reach their goals and have great workouts too.”
Even if you have not watched a paratriathlon before, you too can participate in the club’s wide array of activities, either as a volunteer or as a spectator. The next time you can attend a dare2tri clinic or race, consider doing so and witness the ways the club raises awareness about adaptive sports while also inspiring disabled and able-bodied Chicagoans like yourself.
“Dare2tri’s motto is ‘One Inspires Many,’” Stockwell says. “Whether one of our athletes is inspiring other athletes with disabilities, or able bodied spectators during a race through their actions, dare2tri members encourage other people to also participate in triathlons and see what they are capable of.”
To learn about dare2tri’s presently available membership and volunteer opportunities, or to donate to the club, visit dare2tri.org.