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This is part of our annual Multisport Movers & Shakers awards, highlighting the people you should know about who are helping to shape the sport in the year to come. Read about all of our 2022 Multisport Movers & Shakers.
Allysa Seely’s biggest win of 2021 didn’t happen when she successfully defended her gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics. It took place months before, when her relentless advocacy secured a groundbreaking deal: For the first time in history, Team USA Paralympians would be paid the same as their Olympic counterparts for medal wins.
For athletes with disabilities, whose adaptive sport equipment can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars (and often isn’t covered by insurance), earning equal pay was a big victory. For Seely, it was the result of more than eight years of tireless activism.
“I’ve made it my mission to work with governance in sport—USA Triathlon, the US Olympic and Paralympic committees—to push for equality between the Olympics and Paralympics,” said Seely. “I’ve also been working on ethics panels and holding national governing bodies accountable for actions and choices made that don’t fall in line with the Olympic and Paralympic ideals.”
Seely is unflinching in this quest for equality. In a time when many athletes fear speaking out against their sport’s governing bodies for fear of retaliation, Seely feels she has no other choice.
“It’s hard to speak out,” she admits. “There’s a big fear of retribution, of not getting put forward for sponsorships or for the media, and and that is scary. But at the end of the day, the thing that motivates me is knowing that when I retire from sport, I can judge my career on the opportunities I helped create for other athletes, not just myself.”
Correcting the pay disparity between Olympians and Paralympians is only the beginning of her fight for equality. Up next: a stint as Vice Chair of the World Triathlon Athletes Committee—where she will be the first paratriathlete to serve on the executive board—and plans to make triathlon more accessible for athletes with disabilities and to raise the profile of paratriathlon.
“I want to change policy, to create equality, to force organizations to stop hiding our Paralympians, stop hiding our differences, and to stop devaluing us as athletes and as humans,” Seely said. “I want to ensure that races at the Olympic and Paralympic levels get the same amount of coverage, so that audiences around the world can see and appreciate and learn from the sport.”
Seely is also working to professionalize paratriathlon, introduce the mixed relay to the Paralympics (the mixed relay made its Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 games) and attract sponsorship opportunities for athletes with disabilities. At the simplest level, Seely is just trying to create an equal playing field for all triathletes.
“I want to have World Triathlon value our elite paratriathletes as much as they value elite athletes, for races to make it possible for athletes with disabilities to be a part without obstacles. That’s what it really boils down to in my mind,” said Seely. “If an organization values all their athletes the same, if the world values athletes the same, at the end of the day, we can all be the same. There’s so much potential for us, and I want to see that potential be reached.”
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