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Coaches Blog

Handlers Part 3: My Experience with the Unsung and Amazing Para-Triathlon Volunteers

In my most recent blog posts, we looked at my experience with handlers during the start, the swim-to-bike transition, and the bike-to-run transition. In the final segment of this series, we'll briefly examine the handler's duties when finishing the triathlon and wrap up with some FAQs that both my handler and I have gotten.

Finishing the Triathlon

As I'm running into the final stretch of a triathlon, my handler and I have no clue what my fatigue levels will be. My particular paralysis is from a brain injury. When I start to get tired, I lose what little coordination I have. My handler needs to be ready to support me physically at the end of the triathlon in case I have extreme fatigue.

Every para-triathlete's needs are slightly different at the end of a triathlon. My handler may not need to prepare or do much at the end of the race.

In the case of some wheelchair athletes, I suggest that a handler and athlete discuss before the race if and when they will be ready to switch out of their running chair (commonly used to complete the run portion) and if they will need you to bring their chair from the swim start to the finish.

Similarly, when working with an amputee athlete, the handler must communicate with the para-athlete where they want their "legs" carried to and where/ when they want to switch out of their running leg.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are a few of the most common questions my handler and I were asked throughout my time racing para-triathlon:

Do you need to always have the same handler?

No, I have had at least four different handlers over the years.

Do you have to be able-bodied to be a handler/ Can I be a handler as a para-athlete?

You certainly can be a handler as a para-athlete! As long as you are not competing in the race, you can be a handler.

What is the most crucial aspect of handling?

Subjectively, I think communication is the most essential part of handling.

Do you need formal training to be a handler?

No, you don't need any formal training - although it can be beneficial to meet with the para-triathlete you are helping beforehand and go through/practice what to do at each transition.

Why do handlers get awards, too, in Ironman-branded races?

Ironman does this to acknowledge the importance of handlers.

It all boils down to this: A good handler and athlete must communicate well. They may meet before to practice or go over what is needed. The end result? The athlete had a great race -- with the aid of their trusted handler.


Coach Becky Piper is a USAT Certified LII Paratriathlon and Triathlon Coach living in Michigan with her husband Sam and her dog named Moose. She is a para-triathlete, and para-cyclist, and has plans to try her hand at para- dog sled racing. Her true passion is coaching athletes to reach their best selves - both in endurance sports and beyond! Coach Becky can be reached at


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