Triathlon club’s all-inclusive attitude sets example for others

A TRIATHLON club in Glasgow is going above and beyond to allow more people who have disability to join up.


The Glasgow Tri Club have introduced a new paratri section to their website to further emphasise that their training is open to anyone of any ability.


Paratri and swimming lead, Rose McIlwhan, 39, said: “We have had more people coming to us with disabilities who were sadly turned away or ignored by other clubs. We say: ‘of course you can come along.’ It’s just a no brainer for us.”


Rose was happy to take up the role as paratri lead for the club as she, as a human rights lawyer, has a strong background of working with people who have legal issues related to disability.


The club began in 1998 and they now have more than 300 members. Included in the group are people who have a disability - six of whom identify as paratri athletes.


“We are trying to let the people of Glasgow know that the club is here for everyone – absolutely everyone. We developed a paratri lead and paratri area on our website to make it clear that when we say we are open to anyone we really mean that. Some clubs say that but mean all able-bodied people.”


All members train together and are welcome to pick and choose what training they attend.


“We have loads of folk who just run or swim or just cycle. They can do any combination - it’s absolutely not the case that they must do all three.


“All our new members are welcomed in the same way. Questions don’t come up about members who have a disability. Everyone is working at different abilities. With any new member it is a case of finding out what they need to facilitate them to train.”


The club have approximately thirty coaches who are given additional training on how to support members who have a disability.


Rose discusses how the club have helped a new member, Cheryl Bradshaw, who has a visual impairment to achieve her goals.


“I asked the club if anyone would like to guide her expecting two or three to show an interest but 15 people put their hand up. We now have a pool of trained guides who she likes working with. It’s a good position for us to be in - we can totally accommodate other people who come along. It’s a case of – we are ready, come along, no excuses, and there’s no wait for us to make adjustments.


“Cheryl took part in her first triathlon a month ago and has well and truly caught the triathlon bug. It’s great when you see people who find it’s totally for them. It doesn’t matter whether they race or train so long as they come and have fun.”


The club are committed to providing financial support for equipment to allow more people to participate, and are currently fundraising to buy a tandem bike that Cheryl can use. 


“It’s little things that all make a huge difference for someone looking to participate. Our message is: ‘don’t feel not having the kit is a barrier’ because we will work it out one way or another.”


Rose got involved as a coach at the club seven years ago and coaches in all three disciplines. She discusses some of her highlights.


“I enjoy seeing people getting better and helping them to achieve their goals. It could be a 5k Park Run that they never thought possible.


“It’s such a diverse club so it’s nice to meet so many different people and as a coach I get to talk to more people. As an athlete, you often just talk to people who are the same group as you or the same speed.”


Rose’s commitment to the cause is remarkable since she herself suffers from fibromyalgia – a neurological condition that causes pain in the muscles and bones, and she also has severe brittle asthma. Although Rose experiences profound fatigue she is able to manage her life to fit in work, coaching, and training and doesn’t define herself by her disabilities.

Friendships at the club have helped her: “At the points that I can’t train because of my own conditions I can usually still coach so it keeps me in touch with a social group.


“Last year I was seriously unwell and had regular visits from club members wanting to help and that’s the ethos of the club – they are very supportive.”

She likes to train with the club when she is not coaching: “I have been training to be able to guide for Cheryl so I have to be fit enough to do that. Last year while I was very, very unwell I knew that what would get me through was having some goals put in the diary.”


She is excited to be taking part in the run section of the Lochgilphed triathlon in September as part of a relay team with two other members from the club. Races she will compete this year also include the Glencoe open-water swim in August and the Glencoe Half Marathon in October.


“The half marathon is going to be quite a challenge because one of the conditions I have affects my nerves and muscles. Frequently, even if I do a 10k, I can be on crutches immediately afterwards and quite often for weeks or months.”


She talks about bringing her crutches to events: “I explain that I may need them after and I may even race on them. People have looked at me at every triathlon like ‘sorry you want to do what’, then they go ‘aye, rock-on - if that’s what you want to do – awesome’.


“In other sports they have gone ‘oh no – with your conditions you shouldn’t do this’. Triathlon is a really nice sport as well as our club!”

Her doctors have applauded her determination to participate. She said: “Sometimes racing or training will cause a flare up but it’s worth it on a day-to-day basis because I am definitely better if I have been training and staying fit.”


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