The first-ever Paratriathlon Mid Atlantic Regional Championship will be held in Atlantic City this September.
The inaugural regional competition will be held in conjunction with the third annual Atlantic City International Triathlon on Sept. 15. A paratriathlon is a triathlon for athletes with disabilities.
The popularity of paratriathlons has grown drastically in recent years. Many paratriathletes are military veterans.
In 2016, the sport will make its debut at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Athletes compete at regionals to move on to the Paratriathlon National Championships, which will serve as a qualifier for the Olympic games.
Nearly 80 athletes will compete in a record-sized field at the USA Paratriathalon National Championships in Austin, Texas, on Monday.
"This will be a stepping stone for a lot of these athletes," said Stephen Del Monte, the Atlantic City Triathlon race director. "A lot them are heroes already. ... It's very inspiring. I'm looking forward to seeing it."
Del Monte met with friend and mentor Robert Vigorito, a chairman for the USA Triathlon Mid-Atlantic Region, at an annual symposium for race directors in Colorado Springs, Colo. He convinced Vigorito that Atlantic City was a perfect fit for the first Paratriathlon Mid Atlantic Regional.
"They gave us the ball and we're running with it," Del Monte said. "We're excited."
Aside from its prime location and obvious tourism attractions, the Atlantic City Triathlon's site has the necessary features to accommodate the paratriathletes.
The Atlantic City Triathlon utilizes a bay swim. The water-to-land transition, which can be one of the most difficult aspect for paratriathletes, takes place on the runways at Bader Field.
"We have a tremendous layout at Bader Field," Del Monte said. "It's flat, fast and has easy access for the athletes from the water to their hand cycles to the Boardwalk."
Triathlons and paratriathlons have taken place at the same location before, but it's not an occasion that happens often, Del Monte said. That is partially due to the expanded space required for paratriathletes.
Hand cycles take up much more room than bicycles. Some athletes need a handler or two to help them move from water to cycle.
Del Monte hopes that the Paratriathlon Mid Atlantic Regional will find an annual home in Atlantic City. A budding partnership with the Atlantic City Triathlon should help the cause.
"We have an infrastructure in place that will cater to these athletes in every way," Del Monte said. "Our goal is to do this yearly."
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