Triathlon, The Great Equalizer

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This post is what some people might call “puke on paper.” Not that it’s bad. It just may seem like several unconnected ideas barely tied together. Maybe it’s just a trail of thoughts. Whatever it is, I hope it will be an argument to encourage more people to try endurance sport.

I Have a Hypothesis

The desire to actively seek out difficult challenges is rooted in ambitious and driven personalities regardless of socio-economic status.

I’m not a sociologist or psychologist. But if that statement above is true, then what are the barriers to entering the world of endurance sport? Why do so many high school athletes grow up to be sedentary adults? Is a significant segment of the modern human population devoid of ambition and drive? If so, evolution is not working in our favor right now.

That hypothesis has not yet been tested and I’m just not sure how to get the data to test it. (To be honest, I’m pretty sure none of this matters and life will go on happily without anyone testing one of my crazy hypotheses).

The Evidence

Sometimes I wonder if triathlon is a sport of the rich. Next time you’re at a big race, look around at the bikes in the transition area. Look at the cars in the parking lot. If you don’t see what I see, then read no further, because I’m basing everything that follows on my repeated observations of very expensive bikes and cars.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median full-time weekly earnings among a sample size of 60,000 households was $936 in the last quarter of 2019. That’s a yearly estimate of $48,672.

Now compare that to the over $100,000/year reported to be earned by 6,700 of the 10,217 respondents to a USAT survey in 2016. Because 6,700 is greater than half the sample size, that would put the median income of people affiliated with USAT over $100,000.

If that’s all you look at, then you might conclude that triathlon is, in fact, a sport available primarily to the upper middle and wealthier classes. But there are several problems with that conclusion.

  1. 751 respondents taking part in the survey were from non age-group athlete categories like race directors, professionals and coaches. However, we can not separate them out from the income categories, so we don’t know what impact their responses have on average income.
  2. There are 362 respondents that make less than $30,000/year. Does this group include age-group triathletes? We don’t know.
  3. Could there be some other factor besides wealth alone that might describe why I see so many high priced bikes and cars at triathlons.

Most all triathletes I know are driven to perform somehow. They either want to improve their own PRs or qualify for Boston and Kona or they want to see just how far they can push themselves and what amazing things they can do with their bodies.

Now, I must admit that I’ve been a bit biased in what I’ve told you so far. I actually have seen bikes racked at IRONMAN races that are probably less valuable than the running shoes racked next door. That’s usually an exception, yet it does exist. Does that mean that triathlon really is available to those with less resources?

Why This Might Matter

I believe that drive and ambition are what help to make people rich. I also believe that drive and ambition are behind age group triathletes who enjoy triathlon. If that’s true then triathlon does not have to be a sport of the wealthy: triathlon might transcend economic status. Yet there seems to be a lot of value placed on very expensive items such as bikes, watches, clothing, wetsuits, pneumatic recovery boots, etc.

So where am I going with all this?

I guess I want to believe that triathlon is the great equalizer of human achievement. I want to believe that I can race against the very best and a very diverse group on the same course and on the same day. I want to believe that performance matters regardless of how much each athlete can spend. I want to believe that all I need to qualify for Kona is a strong desire and a lot of work.

Until next time…

Stay to the right, pass on the left and keep on smiling
 

Published by LG

LG found the triathlon lifestyle after years of calling himself soldier, cowboy, philosopher, scientist... "Triathlete" may be the last title he ever needs (after husband and father).

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