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Coaches Blog

Paralympics Brings Paratriathlon to the Forefront

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Although I was not in Tokyo, I was excited to see Paratriathlon get cast into the spotlight and get some attention. I truly think that it has already begun but will eventually become the marquis event of the Paralympic games. With that said, I thought it would be good to do a little Did You Know (DYK) about Paratriathlon.

Below are some "Did You Know" statements with answers and additional facts about the sport so you can be in the know the next time you come across one of these rare breed Paratriathletes at your next race or local group training session.

DYK: Classifications are the process by which Paralympic athletes are subdivided to place similar impairment levels on the fairest playing field to compete. There are currently 6 classes for both males and females (PT W/C, PTS2, PTS3, PTS4, PTS5, PT VI). Athletes are classified based upon a point scoring system. Medical diagnosis, objective test findings, and functional levels contribute to the score and thus overall classification.

PT W/C: These athletes compete in a wheelchair and typically comprise spinal cord injuries, bilateral above the knee amputees, and severe neurologic conditions in which ambulation is a secondary form of mobility. This class is subdivided into PT WC 1 and PT WC 2 as they have a staggered start factor system.

PT S2: These athletes are considered the most severely impaired of the athletes that are "stand up" or ambulatory athletes. Most athletes in this class are above the knee amputees or have multiple significant impairments that may affect their upper and lower limbs.

PT S3: These athletes have what is considered a significant impairment and are considered less physically impaired than the PT S2 class. This class has fewer athletes and has not yet competed in the Paralympic Games. Many in this class have some form of Cerebral Palsy (CP)

PT S4: This class includes athletes with a moderate impairment, and most of these athletes are below the knee amputees or above the elbow amputees.

PT S5: This class includes those with mild impairment, and the majority in this class have either imputations or impairments in the arm below the elbow. There are, however, a few below-the-knee amputee athletes in this class.

PT VI: These athletes are all considered legally blind with the best correction and include levels of blindness from total blindness to vision at or near the legal blindness definition. This class is subdivided into two subclasses (B1 and B2/B3) and has a staggered start factor. The B1 athletes are all totally blind, and the B2/B3 athletes have some degree of vision.

DYK: The sport of Paratriathlon made its debut in the Paralympics in the Rio 2016 Paralympics, but not every classification competes at the games.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) determines how many medal events each

sport is granted a few years before a given Paralympic Games. Then the international governing body for the sport, in this case, World Triathlon, decides which classes will fill each medal event. In Rio, paratriathlon was given 6 medal events, and World Triathlon decided to follow gender equity. Thus, there were 3 male and 3 female classes that competed in Rio. In Tokyo, there were 4 male and 4female classes that competed. At all other international events, all categories compete.

DYK: Some athletes, but not all, are allowed handlers who assist them in transition or getting from one discipline to the next.

In the swim, cap colors designate the level of assist one may get when they come out of the water. A green cap signifies that the athlete cannot get any assist out of the water or from the swim exit to transition. A yellow cap signifies the athlete may need some assistance getting from swim exit to transition. A red cap designates the athlete will need total assist exiting the water and getting to transition. Blind/VI athletes each have a guide. They, therefore, cannot get any additional assistance with swim exit or any other part of the race.

DYK: Athletes with upper extremity impairments must totally control and manage the bike with one hand. Thus their brakes and shifting are specially wired, so both front and rear controls go through one cable.

Athletes with below the elbow impairments will have adaptations such as a platform that they can rest and stabilize their upper body on. All equipment adaptions must be approved by World Triathlon.

DYK: Some above amputees use a prosthesis with a movable knee joint, and some have a fixed knee into a straight position during the running portion of the triathlon.

Those that use a prosthetic leg with a fixed knee have a gait that includes vaulting off the non-impaired limb and circumduction or swinging out of the prosthetic limb to clear the ground. Those athletes using a movable knee joint typically have electrical components in the joint that sense the position of the joint and allow for smoother movements, but the use of a movable knee joint requires a lot of practice to master, and timing of movements is key.

DYK: Blind/Visually impaired athletes must race with guides, but there are strict rules on who can guide and what the guide can and cannot do.

Guides must be of the same gender and nationality as the athlete in international competition. The blind athlete can only have one guide, and it must be the same guide throughout the entire event. The guide can be a professional triathlete but cannot have competed as a professional in a World Triathlon draft legal competition within the last 12 months. The guide must always be side by the side of their athlete as to not push or pull the blind athlete. There are, however, leading zones on the run in which the guide can go in front of the athlete, such as at aid stations and at turns. Both guide and blind athletes use a tandem bike and both athletes pedal with full effort in unison.

I hope the above facts leave you feeling more comfortable approaching and interacting with the paratriathlon community in the future. Paratriathlon is just one component of the overall triathlon community. We know that in our current society, where sensitivity to everything is high may lead people to be more hesitant to interact with us "rare breed" triathletes but don't be reluctant. The key is to educate everyone about us and how we do things so we are fully integrated into society, and how we do things is different but "normal."


Aaron Scheidies is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and licensed Physical Therapist. A graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in Exercise Physiology, Aaron has coached World Champion Paratriathletes as well as Ironman World Championship qualifiers. Aaron is an 11 time World Paratriatlhon Champion and has set the World’s fastest time for anyone with a disability at both the Olympic (1:57:24) and Ironman 70.3 distances. (4:09:54).


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