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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Panasonic New York Triathlon Not Para-Athlete Friendly

"You have to be brave with your life, so others can be brave with theirs." -Katherine Center

I participated in the Panasonic New York Triathlon.  I was able to go because I received a $1000 grant from the Challenged Athlete Foundation (CAF). I was surprised I got it because I had a pretty contentious discussion about the race with representative Travis Ricks.  Prize money was being offered for the medically classified division. Since I am not classified I would not be eligible. But I was promised awards 1st - 3rd would be offered in the PC Open division in addition to the grant.

I had told Travis the CAF has not been much help to those of us with neuromuscular conditions. I told him the CAF prides it self on inclusion, but they actually do not serve the whole para triathlete community.

So I was surprised I was given a grant. I knew the sponsors and the CAF really wanted to help grow the para part of the race so I was happy to go and help. The grant was nice but New York is expensive and it did not cover all my expenses. The race entry was $300 and this would be my first Olympic Distance race.

I also want to thank Accenture, they put on a very nice athlete breakfast and a nice breakfast at the finish on race day.

First here is a short review of the race itself.

Transition was along the West Side Highway. There was no easy vehicle access. That meant a 1 1/2 mile walk to transition in 90 degree heat.    There was a bus on race day, but still a pretty long walk. After the race I had the same long back in the heat carrying all my tri stuff.
As usual the para athletes were in a section by themselves with plenty of room.

It was a one mile walk to the swim.  There were two waves, yellow and red. Yellow was mostly women and red mostly men. We were the first group in the 2nd wave. The swim was with the current in the Hudson River, so it was fast and easy. The problem was not enough time was left until the next wave started. I am not the slowest swimmer and I was literally run over by a man in the next wave.
I hope that did not happen to any of the other para-athletes. I would not want to see anyone hurt.
That is just really poor planning to have a men's wave start too soon after the para wave.  The later start also meant we were out there later and in a hotter part of the day then we should have been. Every para race I have done we are one of the first waves of the day.

The run to the swim was 800 meters over very sharp asphalt. I know it really hurt my feet.  How about some carpet. Other races lay down carpet for sections like this.  Transition was on a baseball diamond and the ground was very uneven. That made me worry about turning an ankle.  I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for the other para-athletes.

The bike course was closed on the West Side Highway. The road was in great shape.  The problem was we were again sharing the course with male age group athletes.  They are faster and stronger and competitive. It would have been much better to be out there in the earlier wave with the women.

The run finished in Central Park. Really cool to do a race there. It was hilly and really hot.   The problem was it now an even longer walk back to transition. There were supposed to be pedicabs to take us back. How about a few buses? It took me over a week to recover from this race and I would say it was due to all the walking in the heat. It was painful.
Not sure what my $300 paid for because the post race food was nothing out of the ordinary.

The race medal was OK, but nothing special.

The race was OK, but nothing really special, I was expecting more from New York especially considering the amount of the entry.

My real issue was because of the way I was treated by the Para race director who also happened to be the USAT Northeast Regional Director.

I requested a handler to help with stripping my wetsuit.  I was told by email one had been assigned. I was copied on an email where my handler said it was not the volunteer assignment she wanted. A few minutes later she changed her mind. Volunteers are guaranteed entry to next year's race.  I sent her the link to my web site.

There was a handler meeting where we were supposed to meet.  Justin Model the race director said at the meeting it was not his job.  How about saying everyone that hasn't met your handler raise your hand or come up here. I never did meet my handler. I got a text when I got back to the hotel saying she would see me in transition. I told her never mind since there would be suit strippers at the dock.

After the race briefing I went up to the race director and asked to see the start list for the PC Open since it was so big. He had showed the race entrants for each group.  I said I just wanted to see who was racing and how many so I had an idea of if I could place in the top three.  He slammed the cover closed on the lap top and said there are no awards. I said I knew I was not eligible for money, but I had been promised by the CAF and the race director a week before the race that there would be trophies.

At the race meeting the race director said if we needed anything at all before the race to contact him.
He said to be sure to get our race bag from the Accenture booth with our tee shirt. I asked the volunteers if the tee shirt was in the goodie bag and they said yes.

So I did that and tested my timing chip. It was a 30 minute walk back to my hotel.  I found out both my tee shirt and my strap for my timing strap was missing. The clear bag I need to get my stuff into transition was also missing. I contacted Justin and he said he would bring it race morning. Then he said I had dismissed my handler and when I told him why he said I should get my timing strap on race day.

He would not help with the missing tee shirt or bag.

Lucky for me a nice volunteer got me a clear bag when I got to transition. He could not help me with a timing strap. I contacted the overall race director and he volunteered to send me one in the mail.

I did not know if there would be a timing strap on race day. I could not race without it. So I got to transition at 4 am so that I could get to the swim start early. I was relieved they had one. Justine the race director would not even talk to me.  I did nothing to deserve that treatment.

When I got back to my hotel later, there were emails from him, he insisted I had to take a handler and that my handler was the only one that could strip my wetsuit. I asked other athletes about it post race and they also had the same understanding that I did.

A few days after the race, one of the sponsors sent out pictures of the award ceremony. Every group but the PC Open athletes got awards. We were the biggest group with 18 athletes. If the 21 in the other categories, half got money awards ranging from $1250 to $250.

Nothing like rubbing in that we were left out. I was treated with total dis-respect and the awards was just a sign.  I contacted one of the sponsors and she passed my comments on to Justin Model. I got a very angry e-mail asking what my problem was. He said there were volunteers handing out medals and why did I not get one.  He said they were trying to make a race for the para-triathletes and they have never given medals in 10 years in the PC Open. 

Lots of classified athletes start in the PC Open, I guess we don't count.  After the way I was treated I turned over the matter to the Para triathlon Manager at USAT.  Under USAT at the grassroots level I am allowed to compete in my category without medical classification and if competing as a PC Open am eligible for awards.

I do not know what set off the race director. Maybe he thinks I am a scammar.  He assumes because I don't look impaired that I have no challenges.  There were other athletes with non visible impairments in the PC Open.  I felt they were shown no respect. I hope by complaining that the race organizers will make some improvements, especially in how they treat athletes in the PC Open division.

It isn't about the medal. Know there were no awards changed the race for me. What was a race became a training run.  This was an issue of respect. Respect for those of us with conditions that are not visible. Respect for athletes that may just be trying the sport. I am way past the point where I am happy just to be at a para-race. I want full and equal particpation for those of us with neuro-muscular conditions. We deserve it, we earn it every day.  We deserve it for the communities we represent.

Chris Wodke
Founder & Manager Team CMT

Chris is a triathlete and long distance runner. She is a three time participant of the Boston Marathon.  In 2012 she finished 2nd at Boston in the Mobility Impaired Division. She was on the course in 2013 when the bombs exploded.

She has appeared three times at the Paratriathlon National Triathlon Sprint Championship. She was the 2012 and 2014 National Champion Paratriathlon Open Division Champion.

In 2014 she was the PC Open Champion at the Duathlon National Championship. She has qualified to represent Team USA at the Aquathon ITU World Championship in Chicago in 2015.  

 In 2014 she represented  the U.S. as a paratriathlete at the Pan-American Triathlon Championship in Dallas, Texas.

She travels around the country raising awareness of CMT.

She is the author of the book, “Running for My Life” that details her experience as a CMT affected athlete.

You may visit her author page at:

Team CMT is a group of athletes and supporters working to raise awareness and to find a cure for CMT. We have 165 members in 32 states. We also have members in Australia, Scotland, Canada, Vietnam, Turkey, Finland, England and Iran. If you wish to join us visit our web site; or

CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy. It affects over 155,000 Americans (as many as MS).  It is a disease of the nerves that control the muscles. It is slowly progressive, causing loss of normal function and or sensation in the lower legs/feet and arms/hands.

Symptoms include; muscle wasting in the lower legs and feet leading to foot drop, poor balance and gait problems Atrophy in the hands causes difficulty with manual dexterity.

Structural foot deformities such as high arches and hammer toes are common.

Poor tolerance for cool or cold temperatures and many people have chronically cold hands and feet.

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties and hearing loss.

Additional Link
Follow CMT affected Paratriathlete Timmy Dixon

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