The Price of Admission
Triathlon is a demanding sport. It requires continual stress and adaptation of our bodies, extensive training hours, the patient understanding of family and friends, and substantial financial burden. These demands bridge the gap between age group and elite athletes. While the stakes of competition are higher, the demands of triathlon are unifying. All athletes can relate to the difficulties of triathlon. No matter how well trained you are, racing is always a physical and mental struggle.
I qualified for USAT Age Group Nationals this past year by obtaining first place at a local Olympic distance race. It was my first race of this distance and my first year participating in triathlons. I’d like to think my qualification was due to my superior skill and obliteration of the competition; however I qualified because I was the only participant in my age group.
I began participating into triathlon because my other post-collegiate hobby, sailing, was too expensive. I could not have been more faulty in my logic that triathlon would be less financially draining.
The financial burden of triathlon is a significant barrier to participation and can be seen most notably in the younger age groups. As of 2015, the average age of triathlon age-group participants was 43.2. For professional athletes, the average age was 33.7. A survey completed by USA Triathlon reports the average household income of a triathlon participant (at all distances) is $126,000. The World Triathlon Corporation reported the average income for Ironman participants is $247,000. Like me, many young age-group athletes don’t have a “household” income. We have individual incomes, and these incomes fall far under the average.
I have been fortunate to be gainfully employed at a job that I love for the past five years. I was employed directly out of college, at a time when the job market was shrinking and opportunities for college graduates were few-and-far-between. More often than not, the positions available were unpaid. Despite this employment, I am still barely able to afford my hobby.
The initial startup costs to participate in triathlon and the recurring annual fees are daunting, making the sport prohibitive to many younger age-group athletes. Below I’ve outlined the expenses I incurred last year during my first season of racing.
- Clothing – $600
- Wetsuit – $300
- Bike and Accessories – $3,000
- Triathlon Club and Training Expenses – $1,000
- Regional and State Parking Passes – $150
- Race Entrance Fees – $100 to $300 per race
- Gym Membership – $600
There are plenty of articles that will outline the cost of triathlon equipment and participation in excruciating detail, so I won’t expand further. I participated in three races last year, bringing my calculated annual cost to just over $6,000. In reality, with the consideration of nutrition and hydration, training gear, travel costs, a GPS watch and electronic sensors, and bike maintenance: the total cost was closer to $10,000.
As a society, we encourage young people to purchase homes, contribute to our 401k and Roth IRA’s, and maintain six months of savings in the bank. All of these are smart financial decisions at an age when setting a great foundation can be a launching point to a lifetime of sustainable financial health. My income falls far below that of the average triathlon participant and I regularly consider giving up the sport for a less expensive activity. While this action may assuage my guilt at spending so much on a “hobby”, it would deprive me of the passion that makes me excited for the day. Triathlon training challenges me to be a better person every single day. To be stronger, faster, and more resilient than the person I was yesterday. To be someone l am proud of.
In order to increase participation in triathlon at all levels, we need address the barrier of cost. For the first time in 2015, the NCAA
at the Division I, II and III levels, declared triathlon as a NCAA Emerging Sport for Women. In tandem with this designation, eight NCAA Athletic departments received USA Triathlon grants to begin a triathlon programs targeted to increase young, promising, female triathletes. This is a step in the right direction, but it must be recognized that attendance to a college which has one of these programs, is often a privilege of the financially affluent already.
So what are we to do? How can we address this issue and remove the barriers to inspire more young athletes to participate in triathlon? There are enough obstacles to achieving women’s equality in triathlon, without adding cost to the mix. Can we encourage local triathlon clubs and shops to provide events and information sessions focused at women, with industry sponsorship for gear demos? These events may not only encourage first-time women to participate, by seeing other women triathlon club members, but also remove the barrier of not having the correct equipment. In turn, if a participant looks to purchase equipment in the future, they may look to the brand they tested at the event.
There can be no denying that participation in triathlon is a privilege to those who can afford it. Triathlon may have saved me from any earlier attempts at purchasing a yacht, but sometimes I feel like my yacht has simply replaced two sails for two wheels. The Equally Inspiring program has enabled me to receive a higher caliber of training and support than I could ever hope to afford on my own. I cannot express the gratitude I feel towards the TriEqual board, participating coaches, and Equally Inspiring athletes for granting me this opportunity.