PUSH­ING FOR EQUAL OP­POR­TU­NITY IN TRIATHLON

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Front page -

Sara Gross re­tired from triathlon in 2016, but she’s still very much in­volved in the sport. The two-time Iron­man cham­pion is one of the driv­ing forces be­hind the 50Wo­men­toKona move­ment, co-founder and pres­i­dent of TriEqual and owner of Live Feisty, a me­dia com­pany that wants to share sto­ries and in­spire fe­male triath­letes.

First things first: Triathlon is a pretty in­clu­sive sport com­pared to more tra­di­tional sports. Women start in the same races, cover the same dis­tances and the first woman earns the same prize money as the first man.

“All true,” says Gross, who lives with her hus­band and daugh­ter, Ros­alee, in Vic­to­ria. “Com­pared to cy­cling, triathlon is not that bad. But just be­cause it’s not that bad, doesn’t mean it can’t be bet­ter.”

Gross was a pro ath­lete from 2003 un­til 2016. Her wins at Iron­man Brazil and Mont-Trem­blant in 2014 are the high­lights of her ca­reer. The 42-year-old was born in Sar­nia, Ont., and com­peted for Great Bri­tain and Canada. She did her first triathlon in Scot­land, where she at­tended the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh and earned her PhD in an­cient his­tory and re­li­gion with her dis­ser­ta­tion fo­cus­ing on women’s his­tory.

“A lot of things I am do­ing now are where my two worlds col­lide: women’s his­tory and triathlon,” she says.

She started to ad­vo­cate for women in triathlon in 2014. The fact that Iron­man was not pro­vid­ing equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male pros in Kona trig­gered her ad­vo­cacy.

“After au­to­matic qual­i­fiers, Iron­man of­fers 50 slots to the

pro men and 35 to the women,” she ex­plains. “The new qual­i­fy­ing sys­tem for 2019 is an im­prove­ment, but it still isn’t eq­ui­table. The main rea­son Iron­man doesn’t of­fer slots equally is that there are fewer pro women than men. But the num­ber of fe­male pro’s that ex­ist has noth­ing to do with the qual­ity of the top fifty women. Op­por­tu­ni­ties should be of­fered equally and should be per­for­mance-based, not de­pen­dant on par­tic­i­pa­tion num­bers. That sim­ply doesn’t make sense for a world cham­pi­onship.”

Lead­ing fe­male pro­fes­sional ath­letes brought the is­sue up with Iron­man in 2014, but noth­ing changed.

“We started by talk­ing to the peo­ple in charge,” she says. “I ex­changed a num­ber of emails with peo­ple from Iron­man, but our re­quests were shut down. Then we started a big me­dia push in 2015 on In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day. We talked to the me­dia about these is­sues and the fact that women should have equal op­por­tu­ni­ties. We made some good gains, even out­side of triathlon. I was in­ter­viewed by Forbes and we were in Sports Il­lus­trated. But Iron­man still didn’t want to change the rule. And now it’s 2018 and sadly the sit­u­a­tion is still the same.”

Gross re­al­ized that she couldn’t keep try­ing to change Iron­man’s ap­proach, so she fo­cused on things she can con­trol. She co-founded TriEqual, a group of men and women ded­i­cated to fair­ness, devel­op­ment and equal­ity in the sport of triathlon and has since been help­ing create ini­tia­tives to bring more women to the sport.

“I want to create path­ways for women to rise through the ranks of the sport. Not only for ath­letes who want to turn pro, but also for women who want to move up the coach­ing ranks or into lead­er­ship po­si­tions in the

in­dus­try. Those things are also im­por­tant to me and I think that is re­ally miss­ing. We need more fe­male ath­letes, but we also need more women in lead­er­ship.”

The par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in triathlon is on the rise, but the ma­jor­ity of com­peti­tors are still male.

“There are sev­eral rea­sons why there are fewer women. You have to start with the his­tor­i­cal con­text of women in sport in gen­eral. Women weren’t al­lowed to run a marathon un­til the six­ties, so there is a lot of catch­ing up to do,” Gross says. “I also think that triathlon can be in­tim­i­dat­ing for many peo­ple. Triathlon has this im­age of be­ing for the su­per fit, some­thing that CEOs do on the week­end. I don’t think we have to be that. You can com­plete a triathlon with a lit­tle bit of train­ing ev­ery day. The trend is to go longer and longer, but that is such a big com­mit­ment, es­pe­cially for women who have chil­dren. I would rather fo­cus on shorter dis­tances, like a sprint – or an Olympic – dis­tance be­cause the train­ing doesn’t re­quire six-hour bike rides on the week­end. Your long ride will be two hours, you can leave early in the morn­ing and spend the rest of your day with your fam­ily. It re­quires a men­tal­ity change: if you’re do­ing shorter dis­tances, you’re not less of an ath­lete.”

Once the women and mi­nor­ity groups are in the sport, the next chal­lenge is to keep them there.

“For ex­am­ple, when uni­ver­si­ties first started push­ing for diver­sity,

The Out­spo­ken Sum­mit for Women in Triathlon will take place from Novem­ber 30 to De­cem­ber 2 in Tempe, Ariz.

mul­ti­ple in­sti­tu­tions man­aged to at­tract more African Amer­i­can stu­dents. But, once those stu­dents got to cam­pus, if no ef­forts were made to make them feel wel­come, they left. Even with­out huge dis­plays of overt racism, peo­ple from mi­nor­ity groups can feel un­wel­come. After that, the same in­sti­tu­tions asked, ‘How can we change our cul­ture to be more in­clu­sive?’ There are a lot of ini­tia­tives aimed at re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers to en­try, but once we have new peo­ple, what do we have to do to get them stay in the sport. Those are the ques­tions that I try to an­swer.”

She hosts and writes ar­ti­cles and sto­ries, in­ter­views peo­ple for her pod­casts Iron­women and If We Rid­ing and is or­ga­niz­ing – to­gether with busi­ness part­ner Lisa In­garfield and pre­sented by Triathlete Mag­a­zine – Out­spo­ken, Women in Triathlon Sum­mit.

“When I started my me­dia com­pany, I had a men­tor through the Fo­rum for Women En­trepreneurs that I worked with for a year. It was so help­ful. We need some­thing sim­i­lar in triathlon, for peo­ple who want to work in the in­dus­try, en­trepreneurs, coaches and women who want to be­come pro ath­letes. There is a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to step into these roles. I hope that this will come out of this sum­mit. When ev­ery­one is to­gether, we can talk about what we want, how we can do it and even­tu­ally create those op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she says.

Marcia Jansen is a free­lance jour­nal­ist and triathlete from Vic­to­ria.

OP­PO­SITE

Gross at Iron­man Texas OP­PO­SITE Gross at Iron­man 70.3 Muskoka 2013 BELOW out­spo­ken­sum­mit.com

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