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Like many groups, Tri My Best in St. Louis is adapting to the challenges of a year filled with social distancing mandates and race cancellations. But Tri My Best is used to overcoming obstacles—in fact, it’s the cornerstone of the group. Founded in 2015 by the Children’s Hospital of St. Louis, Tri My Best is an initiative to help children with cerebral palsy swim, bike, and run their way to a life without limits.
Children and adults with CP are often excluded from sports, despite a large body of research showing that physical activity is critical for maximum function and independence. At the Children’s Hospital of St. Louis, physical therapist Jennifer Miros was tasked with finding ways to encourage activity in children with CP—not only during physical therapy appointments at the hospital, but at home as well.
“We wanted to develop something to give the kids a reason to ‘train’ and stay active throughout the year,” said Miros. “It was important for us to develop something that would promote physical fitness and endurance outside of our hospital walls.”
She found the solution in a partnership with the Washington University Triathlon Club, who offered up volunteer hours and access to their athletic facilities for adaptive triathlon training and racing. A triathlon for children with movement disorders was an ambitious idea, but not an impossible one: through adaptive techniques, tools, and ingenuity, people with CP can—and do—participate in sports. For every form of play and recreation, there is a modified version that makes participation a possibility. Miros worked with the triathlon club, along with physical and occupational therapists in the greater St. Louis Area, to find those modified versions and create a program where every athlete who wanted to train for and race in a triathlon could do so.
“Athletes range in abilities from swimming independently to using pool noodles to having a volunteer hold them during their entire swim portion,” explained Miros. “For the cycle portion, we have an adaptive cycle company come for athletes that don’t have their own adaptive cycle usually a 3-wheeled cycle. Then for the run part, we have athletes that do run or they walk, use canes, a walker, gait trainer, power wheelchair, propel themselves in their wheelchair or are pushed in their own wheelchair or stander.”
By meeting each participant where they are, Tri My Best has created a fully inclusive environment that is fun for all. Children are genuinely excited to train year-round for the capstone race, held each fall. In turn, the training program helps improve many symptoms associated with cerebral palsy, such as muscle tension, stiffness, better control over their movements, and improved balance. Many children with CP also increase their level of self-reliance through exercise.
The benefits extend beyond the physical, however. With more than 70 athletes and 300 volunteers in 2020, Tri My Best has created a truly inclusive community.
“It’s a day where their family and friends get to cheer for them instead of them being on the sideline cheering for their siblings and friends,” said Miros. “We had one dad who told us after the race that his son was in front of scores of kids and adults that may have never engaged with or taken the opportunity to cheer on or encourage someone with a disability. Part of what makes this for us is thinking how many of them could go away with a different perspective, a better understanding or even a desire to understand that they didn’t have before today.”
The 2020 Tri My Best St. Louis took place Sunday, September 13 in an “at home” format. For more information about future events, visit the Tri My Best Facebook page.