Written by Samantha Mueller, Literary & Public Programs Intern
Following our Friday night show of SUCKER PUNCH, Victory Gardens was fortunate enough to be joined by members of Dare2tri paratriathalon club to celebrate the accomplishment of athletes with disabilities. Moderated by Dare2tri’s executive director Keri Serota, the panel was also translated into American Sign Language.
One thing that emerged very quickly, while the athletes were introducing themselves, was the serendipity of meeting Keri Serota. Andrea Walton commented “it seems like everyone has their Keri story” before going on to explain she happened to be at a gym telling a stranger that she wanted to do a triathlon when Keri turned around and introduced herself.
Serota explained that Dare2tri strives to take away any excuse that someone might have to avoid doing a triathlon. Not an athlete? Dare2tri welcomes anyone, novices to elite athletes. With athletes as young as 6 years old, Dare2tri provides coaching staff equipped to train athletes with a wide range of disabilities. They also provide the special adaptive equipment needed. This includes racing chairs for the running portion and hand cycles for the bicycling section. And yes – that means for some athletes, they do the entire triathlon on upper body strength alone. Alberto Guzman explained that for athletes with visual impairment like him, this means they complete the triathlon with a guide who is trained by the Dare2tri staff.
But beyond the staff and equipment, Dare2tri provides community.
“You know who your true friends are when they’re there to support you at the beginning of the race at 6am.”
The slogan for Dare2tri reflects this community atmosphere. It’s easy to see how “one inspires many” can branch out into a community all inspiring each other. Athlete Biz Gauthier said that her proudest moments are at the finish line when the Dare2tri community is present and cheering her on.
Dare2tri seems to more than simply achieving their mission “to positively impact the lives of athletes with physical disabilities and visual impairments by developing their skills in paratriathlon.” They seem to be pioneering the field.
An audience member talked briefly about how the sporting in Sucker Punch seemed to have negative impact on Leon and Troy, the athletes in the play. However, the athletes from Dare2tri said that across the board, none of their relationships had been negatively impacted since they decided to join the Dare2tri community. In fact, the experience of the panel was opposite to the experience of Leon and Troy. Guzman and Gauthier both spoke to strengthened relationships with their sisters. “She was at a party, bragging about me to all of her friends,” Guzman said. He is looking forward to seeing his family in Puerto Rico and completing a triathlon with them cheering him on.
He also spoke to the confidence that Dare2tri has given him due to his newfound level of fitness. Competing in triathlons is how he is fighting against his family history of heart issues. “I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life,” he said. “I am working out six days a week. Every week. I am quite proud of that. Keeping that goal.”
Athletes feel truly supported by the organization. Andrea Walton commented that she felt the proudest when she received a road bike, made to fit her. She was humbled that so many people came together to fundraise a piece of equipment made specifically for her to use. “Having the right bike shaved 15 minutes off of my time. Immediately,” Walton said.
Not only have their relationships to their friends and family been strengthened, their ability to know their own self has also gotten stronger. Biz Gauthier commented “every athlete, like Leon in this play, has an interior voice… knowing yourself is a really important part of any athletic venture.”
Across the board, the athletes spoke to a better understanding of themselves.
Their advice for other athletes, whether able-bodied or disabled?
“It’s not one ninety-minute race; it’s ninety one-minute races,” Kendall Gretsch said of her time in triathlons. While you might have a bad minute, or several bad minutes, it shouldn’t dictate the entire race. “You have to feed off of [your adrenaline]” whether you’re completing the triathlon to get on the podium or just to have a personal accomplishment. Other athletes spoke to the idea of feeding off of the energy and adrenaline present during a race.
“Sometimes we think of triathletes as Greek gods,” Gauthier commented. “But triathlons are really so doable.”
And now that they’ve completed their first triathlons? One athlete seemed to sum up the feelings of the entire panel.
“I’m excited to see what I can do. I’m not sure what that is yet, but I am excited!”