Outspoken: Women in Triathlon Summit

Reporting from the Outspoken Conference.

They say all roads lead to Rome – meaning all paths lead to the center of things – or literally the city of Rome in ancient times, when all roads actually did.  In women’s triathlon our ‘road to Rome’ led us to Tempe for the inaugural Outspoken: Women in Triathlon Summit.

A year in the making, the Outspoken summit was the brain child of pros of gender equity and triathlon – Lisa Ingarfied of Shift Sports and Sara Gross of Live Feisty Media – as a collaboration to deepen the conversation of women’s equity in the sport and broaden the conversation about inclusion in triathlon.  Triathlete Magazine jumped on board as the presenting sponsor.

The inaugural summit attracted over 100 pioneers.  And we don’t use the word pioneers lightly.  Alongside the pro, elite, and age-grouper athletes, were some of the icons of the sport, industry race leaders, governing bodies, international women-owned companies who serve the triathlon market (both female and male), event directors and coaches.

In other words, it was a inspiring, tri-focused weekend for anyone with an interest and passion about the journey of women in the sport.


The Women Pioneers of Triathlon

Julie Moss was impressive and emotionally powerful as the keynote speaker.  Probably most well known for putting Ironman triathlon on the map when ABC’s Wide World of Sport captured what has been called ‘the most amazing moment in sport history’ when she crawled across the finish line at Ironman World Championships in 1982.

Moss’ keynote reminded us of the significant role women have played in the history of triathlon staking their claim on the start line from the early days. Triathlon afforded women opportunities that other sports did not at the time.

When Julie Moss raced her famous Kona Ironman in 1982, it would be another two years until women were allowed to compete in the marathon distance at the Olympics.  In 1982, women made up 9.8% of the race-day field at the Ironman World Championships. Today, in 2018 they made up 28%.


Outspoken: The Current State of Women in Triathlon

If you don’t have data, you can’t quantify the sport! And data has been lacking in woman’s side of triathlon. Studies are happening now to learn how women have gained from participation in the sport and how triathlon has gained from the increase in women athletes.

Participation is not only good for the pocket books of the sport, importantly it is significant for women’s empowerment, confidence and ultimately careers. But, it’s easy to generalize and the industry must aspire beyond a simplistic understanding and assumptions regarding the ways in which women experience triathlon.

Another pioneer in the triathlon racing and industry also kept the inspirations and aspirations high. Sally Edwards has so many triathlon bullet points to her name they’re almost too many to mention, but add in World Championship performances, setting up the first national and international governing bodies, multiple-time author on training and founding a small company called Fleet Feet.

Sally challenged us to consider the industry today, where it has come from and to focus on being the powerhouses of the women’s triathlon industry.   Straight-talking discussions grew on how women can benefit from the sport professionally and personally,  how women can be the leaders, business owners and own both the politics and financial gains.

Sally is not one to hold back, challenging everyone in the room to be assertive and focused in our approach to our sport.

I felt like I’d been in a mass swim start of motivation and it was awesome.
Melanie Mitchell

Outspoken - the women of triathlon tempe Arizona

What’s the Future for Women in Triathlon

The final day at the Outspoken conference clearly defined that if brands and races are willing to put money on the table, women will step up.

There are opportunities to be had for women in the sport and for brands who want to support, for athletes and those women who want to drive the industry forward.

Media representation was a significant discussion at the Outspoken Conference.  Certainly not unique to triathlon, there was the conversation about influencing how women athletes are represented, the impact for sponsorship and agents and the real stories that could be told. Current statistics report that women’s sport only get 4% of the media coverage in sport reporting. 4%. Take a moment to digest that.

Knowledge is power, and now is the time to make change, be ‘feisty’; find our collective voices.   This means increasing the number of women race directors (and retaining those we have), supporting media representing women athletes professionally, and using the confidence from our own participation to demand a seat at the table that suits us best.

Learnings from The Outspoken Summit

This triathlete came away from the summit with ultimate respect for those who have cleared the path for those of us coming after them.  As women athletes, we should honor these women by being the best athletes we can be and create our own leadership in the industry to guide it on a higher path for the next generation.

We’re already looking forward to the 2019 Outspoken: Women in Triathlon summit and how this important gathering will further develop the conversation.

About Melanie Mitchell

Melanie Mitchell - Poppy Sports

Melanie Mitchell is a triathlete with a gear problem. Having raced for more years than she cares to mention, she finally scored an acceptable race photo a couple of decades later.  

Originally from England, she started triathlon in the rain and now swims, bikes and runs in the Colorado sunshine; she appreciates her luck every day.

She is the founder and flower-in-chief at Poppy Sports.