August 11, 2019

In the Shadow of Boston – Triathlon and Gun Violence

text by Dr. Lisa Ingarfield


The 2013 Boston Marathon changed how we think about sporting events, their security, and for many, their lives.

I just finished the USAT Age Group National Championships in Cleveland. As I got ready for my trip in the preceding days, I had this low mumble of foreboding humming in the background. It was a different foreboding from the usual nervousness about racing well and beating my previous times. This new feeling wasn’t there all the time, but as the event drew closer, it began to get louder.

The origin of this murmur is the recent triple-whammy of mass shootings. Or, maybe quadruple-whammy, since there was also another Wal-Mart shooting in Mississippi – a co-worker gunned down two store managers at the end of July. I have never given much thought to mass shootings and triathlon, rarely  (if ever) saying them in the same sentence. The 2013 Boston Marathon changed how we think about sporting events, their security, and for many, their lives. While I am perpetually disgusted at the amount of gun violence in this country, I am not particularly worried about the likelihood of being involved. I am sure many of the party-goers in Dayton and shoppers in El Paso felt the same way. That won’t happen to me.

Age Group Nationals is a big event. There are lots of people – athletes and spectators – who gathered over the two-day contest. USA Triathlon had security protocols in place before this latest round of mass murder, but nothing I could tell to prevent someone with an assault rifle letting loose (what would that be anyway?). I did see a strong police presence at the main site, but I don’t know if that was planned long before this past weekend’s tragedies.

The unease I felt about traveling to Cleveland was disconcerting, and I didn’t like it. The Age Group National Championship is supposed to be fun; a celebration of the achievements of age-groupers across the country. It is the antithesis of a mass shooting where violence and hatred reign. It brings people together, encourages camaraderie and sportspersonship. And yet, it feels marred by what happened in El Paso and Dayton. I imagine its location in Cleveland, while miles and miles from Dayton, is fuelling some of this.

if we have the will and motivation to train for a national championship, can we find the will and motivation to advocate for change?

Triathlon, like running, or cycling, or any sport really, is dependent upon bringing at least a moderate sized group of people to one place, and often, the places we gather are very public. I asked myself on my drive to work the other day, “is this where we are at?” Listening to the radio talk about the rise in insurance coverage requests from small businesses, large businesses, non-profits, schools, nightclubs, and restaurants in the aftermath of mass shootings means I am not the only one contemplating the risk involved in gathering so publicly.

Certainly, I understand the response to my lament could be I am overreacting and in fact have nothing to worry about. Nothing, after all, happened. Why would a disaffected guy choose a sporting event as their target? Yet, Garlic Festival goers in Northern California probably felt they had nothing to worry about, too. As did the folks enjoying a night out in Dayton, or the Pulse Nightclub in Florida, or the music festival in Vegas.

The rapidity with which mass shootings are occurring in the U.S. is beginning to feel paralyzing. As Trevor Noah asked the other night, why is there no desire to try to curb their occurrence? We have laws about drunk driving and seat belts as a way to try and prevent death on the road. We also actively try to limit deaths by medical error. Yet, no such will exists for gun violence. I am not writing this to debate the pros and cons of gun control. I am just sharing the big and small ripples these acts have on people-not least the people who lost their lives and the families who lost their loved ones.

These ripples are making their way to me and perhaps to other triathletes as they thought about their trip to Cleveland, or to any other big triathlon or sporting event. Competing in sport is about sharing a positive experience, finding connection, and even perhaps a shared humanity. Mass shootings represent the opposite. I cannot help but ask: what do they mean for competition in the future? How do they affect our feelings of comfort at large-scale sporting events in public spaces?

I don’t have an answer, and maybe ultimately, it means nothing. But I do think it is a question worth asking, and one triathletes in the U.S. at least, should be contemplating. As a friend asked of me in response to this article: if we have the will and motivation to train for a national championship, can we find the will and motivation to advocate for change?


Lisa Ingarfield, PhD is an academic, researcher and writer with a doctorate in Intercultural Communication. She is also an amateur triathlete and co-founder of the Outspoken Summit and Shift Sports, a company that offers support for sports businesses and organizations who want to increase diversity and inclusivity. Lisa offers coaching though TritoDefi and when she has a spare moment, writes for Live Feisty Media. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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