At This Senior Tri, Age is Nothing But a (Calf) Number
The Huntsman World Senior Games triathlon is changing the way many multisport athletes approach aging.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
St. George, Utah has become synonymous with world championship triathlon in 2022: in May, the desert town hosted the Ironman World Championship race, and in October, they will host the 70.3 World Championship event. But the crown jewel of the St. George triathlon scene might just be Huntsman World Senior Games.
11,000 athletes converge on St. George every October, making the Huntsman Games the largest annual multisport event in the world for athletes over the age of 50. Modeled after the Olympics, the Huntsman Games showcase 35 different sports competitions, including the popular triathlon and triathlon relay.
“Triathlon was added to the Games in 1996, capturing the wave of multisport athletes who were ‘aging up’ but didn’t want to stop pushing themselves,” says Kyle Case, CEO of the Huntsman World Senior Games. “Many of our athletes credit the Games with changing the way they approach aging.”
Of course, triathlon is and has always been an all-comers sport. Every race has age groups that go as high as its oldest competitor, whether it’s Kona nonagenarian Hiromu Inada or the seemingly ageless “Iron Nun” Sister Madonna Buder. But the Huntsman Games caters exclusively to the 50-and-better crowd for a unique race-day experience.
“Anyone can compete in any triathlon,” says Case. “This one is specifically set up to cater to the senior athlete. There’s a different vibe at the Games, one of competition to be sure, but also one of encouragement and camaraderie. There’s something magical about seasoned athletes gathering to do what they love to do.”
The sprint-distance triathlon event is held at a giant man-made “lagoon” at a local master-planned community, which offers roughly 2.5 acres of surface area. This provides the safety and cleanliness of a pool, but with the feel of an open water swim. Cutoffs are enforced for all three disciplines, and no drafting is allowed during the race – just like any other triathlon competition. One distinct difference in the Huntsman triathlon, however, is age groups in the relay. Instead of all relay teams competing against each other, the combined ages of team members are calculated to determine the team’s “age group” they will compete in on race day.
“The age group categories evolved over time with feedback from athletes. The idea is to try to create a fair category that allows the opportunity for success to as many athletes as possible,” says Case. “There’s some strategy involved in the creation of these teams. Maybe an older swimmer and cyclist, who are skilled in their legs of the race, but are lacking in knee flexibility, might actively recruit a younger runner to take the anchor position. But they know that the runner’s youth might put them in a different category.”
This system has made for a more competitive relay event at the Games, as well as made it more inclusive. “At the end, it’s one more example of how, with a little determination and creativity, you never have to stop competing in the sport you love,” says Case.
This year, the Huntsman World Senior Games Triathlon will have hundreds of athletes competing, including multiple athletes in their 80s – all proving that age is nothing but a calf number.
“Triathletes are some of the toughest athletes out there and that doesn’t stop just because you get a little older,” says Case. “We have athletes every year from all around the world who prove that over and over.”
RELATED: The Mature Athlete: Why Triathlon is the Best Sport for Aging Athletes