If you need some motivation for that New Year exercise regime, the inaugural Para Tri sporting event being held this August might be just the thing…
Having previously competed at London 2012, taken part in several European and World IPC Athletics Championships and served for a number of years as Commercial Director of UK Athletics, it’s fair to say that Sophia Warner knows a thing or two about competitive sport.
The 40-year-old mother of two from Surrey has long been a passionate distance runner, but due to her classification – Warner has cerebral palsy – she was limited to just competing within 100m and 200m sprint events. All being well, however, next August she’ll be taking on a 5km run, a 20km cycle and a 750m swim alongside many others as part of the UK’s first ever mass participation disability sport event – the Para Tri Series.
Races for all
Para Tri is Warner’s brainchild, conceived in part as a way of letting disabled people push themselves by taking part in an organised sporting event at a level pitched somewhere between the levels of novice and serious enthusiast. “Look at things like Tough Mudder,” Warner says. “They’re great events for people who don’t really do sport but want to have a bit of a challenge. But what if you have a disability – do you have to go to the Paralympics? Not everyone wants to. Some people just want to do sport and have a laugh, and that’s how this event came about.”
Warner and co-organiser Sportworld, a London-based event management and sponsorship services specialist, are looking to accommodate as many and entrants and abilities at Para Tri as possible. The day-long event will involve six different races, ranging from the Sprint Para-Tri Relay for complete beginners and younger participants, to the gruelling Full Para Tri Elite for competition veterans who take their sport and training very seriously indeed.
“With the sprint relay we’re trying to encourage children or people with disabilities to do it with their mums and dads or friends,” Warner explains. “It involves a kilometre run, which they can be either pushed or helped through, making it the ‘all-inclusive’ one, if you like.”
Beaten by Scooby Doo
On the face of it at least, the Elite race at the other end of the scale would seem to be aimed at those already deeply committed to sport and therefore used to pushing themselves in such competitions – but as Warner notes, Para Tri is going to be the first event of its kind for a very important reason. “There are other sporting events in which both disabled and able-bodied people can compete,” she says. “They can be a really positive step in the right direction, but you get sense that it’s a ‘bolt on’.
“I wanted to introduce something where you don’t have to run alongside able-bodied people. I know there’s this big thing about integration, but if you’re really fit, sporty and disabled, you don’t want to get beaten by someone who isn’t fit but is able-bodied; you just want to compete on a level playing field and have fun. It’s not fun when you get beaten by Scooby-Doo, which is what always seems to happen to me!”
As a ‘mass participation’ event, one of the key aims of the Para Tri Series is to reach out and engage with those who up to now have had relatively little previously involvement in sport via charities, physiotherapy services and other such avenues. What does Warner therefore make of the London 2012 legacy – if indeed there is one – and has it led to any improvements in the area of disability sport in particular?
“It’s hard to say, because I’m so immersed in it, but I do see improvements,” she says. “From the outside I might hear cynical reports that things haven’t changed, but I’ve seen first hand that they have. Look at things like the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games – it was a two-day event that we turned into a three-day event so that the third day could be devoted to disability athletics. There was a demand there, so the legacy definitely lives. People now have their local heroes and national treasures within disability sport as well. And you should see the kids that are coming through, [the talent] is unbelievable.”
Over to you
So for someone who’s a triathlete novice but keen to give Para Tri a go, what should they expect and how should they look to prepare ahead of the event in August? “At this stage, as much as they want to let themselves in for. If all they want to do is push, be pushed or run for 1k, they can; if they want to do just two legs of the triathlon, all three or one that’s really short, they can.”
The social aspect and diverse target audience of Para Tri will also be very much to the fore during the build-up to the event. “We’re going to be following a mum who’ll be doing it with her daughter,” Warner says, “an elite athlete who’ll doing the full one and people with different disabilities doing the races in the middle.”
In time, the website will also feature nutritional advice, training tips and other constructive suggestions – but only up to a point. “We don’t want to put people off with too much information,” Warner stresses. “Anyone can come and do a kilometre however they need to, with help from friends or family if need be, and just get involved with the day.”
So with Warner set to be among those taking part in the top-end Elite Race, how are her own triathlon training sessions going? “The swimming and cycling has been a massive challenge,” she concedes. “I’m actually learning to swim properly – I can swim in the sense of getting from one end of a pool to the other, but I’m now learning to swim competitively. I’m also spending couple of days with British Cycling learning to ride a bike – again, at the moment I can ‘ride’, but I can’t race.”
Ultimately though, if there’s one thing to take away from discussion of the Para Tri Series, it’s that it’s open to everyone with just one caveat. “You can’t enter as an able-bodied person unless you’re part of a team with a disabled person,” says Warner. “The entry requirement is have a disability!”