Erin Beresini: Spot On! (Wrong Year.)

Erin, I’ve been thinking about the Opinion piece you wrote in Triathlete Magazine about the Triathlon Business Intl (TBI) Conference, in which you say our industry organization has "made shockingly little progress” toward fulfilling our mission. You held up our just-completed Conference as evidence. I stayed mum about your OpEd until now, because when it comes to views (not news) there isn’t anything one can write that one can’t write later. It’s later.

I don’t think anything you wrote is patently wrong. Your points are debatable, but not prima facie false or unfair. Just, what you wrote is about last year’s TBI Conference. Did your comments fairly describe this year’s Conference?

I thought I’d wait until we got back the results from our anonymous survey of Conference attendees, to see if I presided over a different Conference than they attended. Fifty-four percent felt the Conference was "Very Good or Excellent", 38 percent rated it "Good", and 8 percent "Neutral". None ranked it "Poor" or "Very Poor".

"At this time," we asked, "how likely are you to attend the 2019 TBI Conference?” Eighty-six percent said "Very Likely", 9 percent said "Somewhat Likely", 5 percent said "Likely" and none checked the box for "Not Likely".

Now, to be clear, I side with those who rated us "Good". I’m glad most rated us "Excellent", but I wouldn’t have. But then this was my Conference to put on well or badly, and I obsess over what went badly. Nevertheless…

I looked in the comment section for evidence of the blind spot that men like me are prone to have. I didn’t see any. I think you would have felt differently, Erin, if you had attended the Conference.

The notes I got in response to what you wrote, from those who attended, men and women, ranged from head-scratching to outright anger. The most aggrieved were the women who stood at the helm with me over the last 4 months producing this event. To your solution, "Make the [TBI] board better reflect the change it wants to see in the sport,” to my recollection every woman who ran for a TBI board seat won a seat, and the women in our organization know that. Your former editor in chief was on our Board, and resigned when she left the industry. I replaced her seat with a woman, on an interim basis pending our annual vote, and she helped organize our Conference and moderated a number of Conference panels.

All my time, travel, and expenses for this Conference and this org were and remain unpaid. I bought my Conference registration, paid for my hotel rooms. I spent the first night of the Conference in a motel on Interstate 10 because I gave away the beds in my rooms to attendees who were shut out of a fully booked hotel. I’m ambitious for our sport, I’m driving hard, and I need help. I’ve asked several women to serve on this Board (we’re opening nominations now, for the upcoming year), but not for the reasons you suggest. I’m not interested in the optics. Those I’m asking are the smartest, hardest working and most talented people I could find, in fields in which we don’t have Board representation, and they happen to be women.

If Sarah Hartmann, who oversees a wonderful organization (Women for Tri) says we have a lot of work to do, this I’ll listen to, because she attended the Conference. If Kelly Burns Gallagher, who did more for triathlon than anyone our organization could find, of either gender, feels we put on a Conference that denigrated women or people of color or morphology or income class or any other group, this I’ll listen to, because she saw the Conference. If the two women from the fastest growing tri club in America – Mullica Hill Women’s Tri Club – think we fell short, I’m eager to know it, because they attended the Conference. If Liz Hitchens, from your own magazine, or either of the other two on your masthead say we produced an “older white men” Conference, I want to know. Because they were at the Conference.

One thing I never do at Slowtwitch is write that “we” feel a particular way unless I first make sure that those I’m roping in actually feel that way. When you write that the TBI Conference "left members of the Triathlete staff who attended as well as several attendees we spoke to, disappointed…” did you hijack your own co-workers’ acclamation to add ballast to a decision you’d made before the Conference ever took place? I want to hear from those “several attendees” that you spoke to, because I can’t find them. No quote; didn’t happen. I want to hear the grievances of the three “members of the staff" who actually did attend because I’ve spoken to two of them and they either aren’t telling me the truth (unlikely, knowing the moral heft of these folks), or you didn’t ask them before you appropriated their huzzahs.

What I write above is not on behalf of TBI, or its Board, or of the men and women who all volunteered their time to produce this event, and who work year round on this org's mission. If I were, I’d write “we”. What I wrote above is just me, speaking on behalf of me.

That established, on behalf of TBI, we want you at our Conference. Yours is an important voice. We’ll be returning to the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel on January 25 thru 28 of next year. This Conference enjoyed a 60 percent year over year increase in paid registrations and when we math out 2019, we’re going to need a bigger room. For this and other reasons we need you to be there, to keep us honest. In the meantime, please watch TBI, report on us, and make sure we stay true to our mission.