FRASER VALLEY FAST
In British Columbia, the Abbotsford Triathlon Club (ATC) has been racking up new members at a very quick pace since it was established in fall 2014. A commitment to inclusiveness, diversity and tailored support plays a big role in attracting more and more athletes.
“We are the fastest-growing tri club in the province and we boast one of the highest coach-to-athlete ratios,” says Kevin Heinze, a veteran triathlete and club coach. Their 80 members vary from teenagers to folks in their sixties, with lifestyles ranging from university students to retirees. Each of the seven coaches have training or certification from the National Coaching Certification Program.
The club has a strong inclusive policy regarding sexual orientation, ensuring everyone is in an environment free from discrimination. Furthermore, their code of conduct requires member intervention for any observed harassment.
The founding principle of the ATC was to provide a community where triathletes of all levels could meet fellow athletes to improve their skills and develop camaraderie. Members bring many levels of experience and differing goals, too. Some do not aim for triathlon competitions, but focus on a single sport instead.
The club motto of ‘Swim farther, ride harder, run faster’ could imply that the approach is pretty serious, but there is a balance of work and fun here. Visitors to their website will soon notice that the hashtag #justforfun gets equal billing as #competetobeat.
As the old saying goes, those who work hard should also play hard and ATC covers that with many social events throughout the year to build on everyone’s sense of belonging. The social agenda is helped along by sponsorship from a local winery and several equipment sponsors offer discounts for members’ training equipment needs.
Training sessions take place in Abbotsford and several other local communities. To round out skill development and expand their knowledge further, members also attend guest speaker events and clinics. In the last year, clinic topics included planning your tri season, changing bicycle tires, off-road triathlons, nutrition and bicycle maintenance.
For members who are new to the sport, there are additional less-structured events called Coffee with the Coaches. These one-onone discussions typically cover concerns and questions related to equipment, swimming in a lake and best practices for training.
When asked how the club has helped her, new member Juliane Rail explains, “For me, it’s the incredible amount of support. There’s been many questions starting with ‘How do I…’ or ‘Where do I find…’ and there’s someone to answer.”
Another newbie, Valerie Vanderploeg, is very happy with her decision to sign up.
“The fresh energy, weekly encouragement and experienced coaches are why I joined ATC,” she says. “Making this choice reassures me that I will succeed in my first triathlon this year.”
Coach Heinze says that welcoming newbies is beneficial to the whole group.
“The positive energy that our new members have is infectious and motivating,” he says. “After having been in this sport for over 20 years and training mainly by myself, it is refreshing to have the option of being able to train with other people.”
The club’s diversity in membership really showed at the Dynamic Race Events series in B.C. last year, when members travelled to races in Nanaimo and Oliver. Among their accomplishments was an interesting list of firsts that included: a first-ever triathlon; a first half-ironman; a new age-group course record; and, for one member, a return to the sport after being away more than 10 years due to injury.
“The fact that ATC dominated the podium at these events was just a happy by-product,” declares Heinze, adding that 27 members participated in the Oliver event alone.
“What’s really special about our club,” says coach Mikey Ross, “is how members interact.” For example, the night before the Nanaimo race, the twenty-somethings gave advice to the newbies who were in their sixties. “There’s always something that we can learn from each other,” he says. “All have unique perspectives and ways to contribute to our community.”
Helen Powers is a regular contributor to Triathlon Magazine Canada. She lives in Dundas, Ont.