Team PIS members competing at Kona 2014. A support crew of 50 flew over to support their team. Photo by: Slowtwitch
I recently had the privilege of visiting Penrith, home to one of the great triathlon communities in the world.
Many are already familiar with Team PIS (Penrith Institute of Sport). I know this because even from Europe I’m asked about the ‘crazy, drinking Australians at Ironman’ and what they’re about. Attitudes towards the boys from Penrith tend to be disapproving, the charge being they don’t treat the sport with the seriousness and respect it deserves.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
As the Ironman arm of the Panthers Triathlon Club (PTC), Team PIS represents a broader triathlon movement that does wonderful work for the health and fitness of their local community. It is the very best of what triathlon should be.
The PTC has over 540 registered athletes who pay a maximum $50 to be a member of the team. Juniors pay $20 and kids from 5-13 pay $10. Every summer the club holds regular handicap run and open water swim races within Penrith, while also hosting monthly triathlon and duathlon events for its members. Events are open to all ages and abilities.
The club were also instrumental in the formation of Australia’s Oldest Triathlon, The Nepean Triathlon, which started in 1982 as an 800m swim, 40k bike and 14km run. Last year it featured in the UK edition of Triathlon Plus as one of the ‘50 Races to Do Before You Die’.
This race developed into a community event that continues to thrive. It’s core values have not been compromised. They pay one of the highest prize purses in all of Australia for the pros and raised over $20,000 for local charities in 2014 alone. Last year after all race expenses were paid, they donated a further $13,000 to the Royal Fire Service to help in the relief efforts after bush-fires in the local area. The race is manned by volunteers and local entities who are paid by the race itself.
PTC members training at dedicated facilities for triathletes at the Atmosphere Fitness & Multi Sports club.
So do not be fooled by the silly costumes and banter on social media. Team PIS represents a non-serious side of one of the biggest and most community-focused triathlon teams in the sport.
Nor should one be deceived by their apparent indifference to performance. While their roster consists of ex-footy players who ‘eat fried food, don’t train in winter, and love a beer’ the team are the reigning Australian Ironman Club Champions. When they do train, they train hard. Tough sets are completed as badges of honour as when there’s bragging rights up for grabs they race each other like it’s war. The club’s motto is: “Train hard … race hard … party harder”
My friend and club patriarch, Greg Chapman, has done every Nepean triathlon. 31 years in a row. Bad knees, bad back, old age and now a knee replacement, yet there is still one thing all in Penrith know. If Greg’s got breath in him he will be on the start line each October.
I have been proud to receive Penrith hospitality from as far back as 1990. It started with their late great leader, Ched Towns, who encapsulated to me the spirit of the club. Having just learned about the Penrith race the night before, I rang him at 9pm from Queensland and asked ‘if we can get there, can my guys have a race?’ He said ‘give it a try and we’ll do our best’.
We arrived just late. As the competitors waited to start, the race was delayed by Ched, who was blind, and said to them: ‘Be patient. If these guys are willing to drive the 12 hours to race with us, we are going to give them a little time as they are one of us.’
It was a great race and I, like many others from around Australia since, have been welcomed to their triathlon community ever since as ‘one of us’!
The PTC to me represents more than just a local tri club. It represents hope. If our sport is to successfully resist the WTC vision of turning triathlon into an elitist hobby, out of reach financially for the majority of its grass roots participants, which values neither the event hosts or the professional ranks, it will take strong, principled and well organised community based triathlon clubs like the Panthers to do it.