Sixteen aspiring paratriathletes and three athlete mentors participated in the third annual Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) Dodge Paratriathlon Camp in San Diego, California, August 25–28.
It's not just any camp, however. The camp is informally referred to as the "Camp of Champs" because it provides paratriathletes with tools and instruction to help them reach their goals in the sport. From getting properly fit on their bicycle or handcycle, to learning how to swim, run, or use a racing chair more efficiently, the comprehensive approach taken at the Paratriathlon Camp provides athletes with the confidence and technical skills they need to compete.
"Our philosophy is that there are universal elements in training, racing, and nutrition that apply to all athletes," said Roy Perkins, senior director of programs and strategic development for CAF. "We then use our mentors to augment the basics with disability-specific information."
Camp coaches include Mark Sortino and John Murray, USA Triathlon Level 1 coaches from the Multisport Performance Institute (MPI), Pensacola, Florida; Peter Harsch, CP, USA Triathlon Level 1 coach; and Carlos Moleda, four-time Ironman Handcycle Division World Champion, as well as Melissa Stockwell and Mike Johnston, paratriathlete mentors.
The athletes came from all corners of the United States—from southern California to New York and Florida—to participate in the camp. The youngest was 14 years old.
Top photograph: Coach Peter Harsch, CP, leads running drills for amputees. Above: Paratriathletes work on lateral movement skills. Photographs courtesy of CAF.
Harsch said that he doesn't change his coaching style or the training modules for paratriathletes. "I treat them the same as an able-bodied athlete whether they are competing in short-course or long-course triathlon," he said. "The only difference is adjusting their technique for swimming, cycling, and running so they can be as efficient as possible with their disability." Harsch has competed in USA Triathlon Championships, XTERRA races, International Triathlon Union (ITU), and 11 Ironman events, including qualifying and competing at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
He said it is the "little things" that make the difference in the athletes' training. The camp limits its participants to no more than 20, so athletes can get more personalized attention and better training.
"We prepare them to be the best with detailed training programs and follow up as needed so they can fulfill their personal goals," Harsch said. "When we add in the aspect of our paratriathlete mentors, who have already achieved great success in the sport, the participants receive the validation and inspiration to show them what they are capable of."
Harsch became involved with the camp in 2009 as the team director for the USA Paratriathlon National Team. "As we were moving forward and the triathlon was accepted in the Paralympic games in Brazil 2016, I approached CAF with the idea of being the first organization to hold an elite Paratriathlon camp with certified coaches and prosthetists who have years of experience fitting these types of athletes," he said.
The approach must be working. At the recent Accenture U.S. Paratriathlon National Championships, 13 alumni of the Paratriathlon Camp earned podium spots in the six Paratriathlon classifications.
The dates for next year's Dodge CAF Paratriathlon camps will be posted on the CAF website in early January 2012.