Dear Women for Tri Board of Directors:

I write regarding the announcement that three of your members will be participating in Ironman Kona in 2015.  Specifically:

After conducting national research to determine the greatest barriers to women’s participation in triathlon, members of the Women For Tri board identified a need to support female athletes at the local level and to create an interactive source of information and resources for female athletes.

Towards this goal, three volunteer board members will participate in this October’s IRONMAN World Championship in Kona in partnership with IRONMAN Foundation, with the aim of raising $75,000 to achieve these goals.

The funds raised by the Women for Tri board in 2015 will be used to:

  • Offer grants to local triathlon clubs, coaches and programs dedicated to recruiting, training, and supporting emerging female triathletes,

  • Create and maintain interactive communication hubs including a website, videos, and other resources for female triathletes of all levels

  • Fund grants for college students

I have never qualified for Kona, so I can only guess how excited you are to be toeing the start line on the Big Island.  While I agree with you that engagement of women on the local level is one important way to recruit new triathletes, this program leaves me with several questions.  Perhaps you will be so kind as to provide some answers.

  1. How will the fundraising be conducted?  Will you be personally fundraising?  Is Ironman setting up a fundraising site for you?  Will you be using the Women for Tri Facebook group?  If people donate where do the funds go?  Are they going to the Ironman Foundation?  Is there a separate 501(c)(3) for these funds or are they going to a “Women for Tri” fund? Are the donations tax deductible?  Who will be managing the fundraising and donations?
  2. Why is the fundraising level so low? I understand $25,000 per person may sound like a big number, but in reality its pretty small.  Kona slots sold through eBay go for over $50,000.  Ironman just paid $2.7 million (plus attorneys fees) to settle a lawsuit with the Department of Justice over the Kona lottery.  $75,000 seems like small potatoes.  Moreover, among the three women Ironman selected to participate is a soap opera actress and a Congresswoman, both of whom should be able to raise well over $25,000.  If I can raise over $20,000 per year without the help of the largest endurance sports company on the planet, they should be able to crush $25,000.
  3. Where is the money going? Grants and interactive communication hubs sounds really nice but what does it actually mean?  USAT has a Talent Identification and Athlete Development Program (this is how Gwen Jorgensen and Katie Zaferes were identified), are the funds going there? What about these grants to coaches?  Will coaches need to be Ironman Certified Coaches to apply or will funds be available to any coach who is promoting female participation in the sport (moreover there are several coaches on the Women for Tri Board, will the fund be directed towards them)?  And on the college student front are you going to be supporting triathlon as an a merging NCAA sport or is there a different focus?  Also, and most importantly, are all the funds going to these programs?  The Ironman Foundation has a history of spending funds on things unrelated to it missions (such as a $5 million loan to WTC), is this money really going to programming?
  4. What about proportionality and earning a slot to Kona?  According to the current Kona Points Ranking Standings, 8.5% of Male Pros will qualify for Kona in 2015 and 10.5% of Female Pros will qualify (the percentages are even lower for age groupers).   Despite these numbers, 27% of the Women For Tri board gets to participate without having to qualify.  Ironman has repeatedly argued that Kona slots should be proportional, that slots should be earned and not given away and that “giving” more slots to female pros would dilute the quality of competition and be a disservice to the athletes.  Don’t these arguments also apply to the slots given to Women for Tri Board members? Or is that fact that the Board members are doing some fundraising the difference maker?
  5. Can I buy slots for the Pro Females? So if the difference is the $25,000, can I start buying slots for female pros at $25,000 a piece?  You can use the money for your grants and interactive communication hubs and I can help right the discrimination currently facing female pros, its a win – win.  Heck, I’m pretty sure I could raise more than $75,000 too.

Thanks for taking the time to read my questions and I look forward to hearing your response.



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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05


IronTarsh · June 23, 2015 at 8:56 am

What a great post. Great points raised and I hope you receive an answer to all your questions raises. All valid. Couldn’t agree with you more. I’ll be sharing this post!!!!

Rachel Tibbetts · June 23, 2015 at 12:45 pm

These are also my concerns!

Poppy Sports - Melanie Mitchell · June 23, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Interesting points made here and relevant questions raised. I do also wonder, how the fundraising play out and how the grants will be awarded if the fundraising goals are reached.

I hope not on the basis of who is going to get Ironman the best PR push.

There are some great super women-focused initiatives out there. People who are really helping to get more women not only into the sport but to consistently race every year. We focus on this at Poppy Sports, but I wonder how our ‘little’ program will compare to a big name and what publicity they can bring. Grass routes vs. PR push.

Lauren at Lauren runs · June 23, 2015 at 5:22 pm

Well said. I also am curious about “interactive communication.” How much $$ do you need for that when there are some decent FB groups out there, and the general support of all triathlon communication channels. We are women, not aliens. So while some things are unique, we can communicate via standard channels. Facebook, USAT/ironman sites, all work great.

Alex · June 25, 2015 at 12:43 pm

I’m curious about what they mean by “for college students” too. As someone who participated with their college tri team, I would like to see the money go toward helping more schools build NCAA programs, or even to help fund the current club programs. If I didn’t have the club program at my school I would never have gotten into the sport, so without those there would probably be even fewer women in the sport.

It’s also really interesting that the Women for Tri board has a better chance at a Kona slot than a pro or age-group woman.

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