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Why Collegiate Athletes Quit Tri When They Graduate

And how to fix it, with Penn State senior and three-time Ironman finisher Kristin Goett.

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And how to fix it, with Penn State senior and three-time Ironman finisher Kristin Goett.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re adventurous and cool. A lot of you probably just nodded. You get up early to train, drop your hard-earned cash on neon spandex, and are willing to travel far, often irrational distances to races.

This may come as a shock, but many equally adventurous and cool young people have found the sport of triathlon too tough, and not for the reasons you might think. In fact, the 18-24 age group comprises 4.19 perecent of USAT membership holders. That number is low, friends. Very low. Take a second to recover. I’ll wait.

You good? Good.

So what’s the deal? Take TJ McCann (24), a recent college grad. McCann, who participated in collegiate triathlon at Penn State, notes that the team atmosphere enticed him to race in college, but the lack thereof postgrad caused him to decrease his participation.

“I still look for local races, but without having a bunch of friends racing with me, I’m not going to go out of my way to do a triathlon where I need to travel very far,” says McCann. “I still have a passion for triathlon, but when you graduate college you need to start making choices about time management, and racing just isn’t the biggest priority.”

We all know triathlon requires more than a few dolla’ bills, and it also takes up more than a few hours of time that many could be using to study or adjust to that first real world job.

Back when life was simpler—we’re talking the 80s—triathlons seemed simpler, too. A speedo, a functioning bike, and running shoes were the basic technical requirements. The attire? Forget spandex—that was only for the cool girls. Triathletes rocked a cotton tank-top and polyester running shorts. Ohhhh yeah.

But when triathlon became an official Olympic sport in 2000, things got a little pricey and very time-consuming. Greats like Siri Lindley and Dave Scott made spandex trendy (no small feat), and companies suddenly required a whole lotta dough for fancy carbon. Training became scientific and regimented because that’s the kind of torture type A triathletes live for. Coincidentally, that’s also the kind of training that often leads to success.

Today, legends like the Brownlee brothers and Daniela Ryf rule the scene. With increasing pressure to be competitive, the strain on young triathletes is growing. Sounds a lot like college and the job market, doesn’t it? Interesting parallels.

Pursuing a passion while young is hard. But if we sit down and put our glycogen-deprived brains together, we can help to bolster 18-24 participation. Check it out.

Help Me, I’m Poor

Whether you are in college or riding the postgrad struggle bus, every penny counts. If USAT and endurance sports companies offered student discounts, social media would blow up. Few of those endurance companies offer any discounts whatsoever. Even a 10% discount for the 18-24 group would entice newbies to pursue triathlon without sacrificing things like groceries, and it would be a nice “thank you” to current 18-24 age groupers for their support. Racing companies like Ethos are setting the example by offering a 50% discount on registration fees to registrants under the age of 23. Ethos, we salute you.

Bikes and Beers

The lack of young, like-minded triathletes to hang with can be a deterrent to newbies and experienced triathletes alike. Encouraging local tri clubs to offer teams for young professionals and students can provide much-needed camaraderie for 18-24 year olds. For athletes over 21, doing a “bike and beer” night once a month can do wonders for the fried brains of those drowning in loans and all that “young person” stress.

The Tri Life Chose Me

For those who have done even a single triathlon, you know the sport is more a lifestyle than a one-time event. Promoting triathlon as a way to maintain the balance between work, fun and family takes away the pressure of putting too much focus on a single race. If you race well, that’s rad. If you race poorly, it’s part of the tri life and you shrug it off. Balance, not burnout. Races and companies should foment this mentality to encourage a more diverse group of athletes to join our sport.

Triathlete is committed to supporting young triathletes and will be soon be offering discounted subscriptions. Keep an eye on our Twitter account for the complete announcement.