Having athletes scattered out across a vast area presents particular challenges when managing national teams. However, Team USA proved this does not have to be a barrier to success when they became the most successful nation at the 2022 Virtus World Cross Country Championships. The event, hosted by Athletes Without Limit(AWL) in the city of San Diego saw the home team win five of the eight gold medals and ruled the podium. This was despite the fact that the team, who won both the 4km and 8km team events, mostly do not train together.
“They didn’t have any time together to practice. I spent time over the six months before the event having video calls with the athletes and asking them how their training is going, coming up with some sort of resources for their parents/personal coaches if they had any questions,” says Scott Brinen, head coach for the USA Cross-Country team.
Newbies like Ishaan Iyer and Ben Bluemound, teamed up with Paralympians like Mike Brannigan, Breanna Clark, and Kaitlyn Bounds to keep their national flags on top. One of those hidden heroes was Ben Bluemound who inspired everyone with his performance and contribution to the team despite suffering from a seizure just a week prior to the event. He fought through the soreness and medications to play a major role in the team’s event.
“The seizure I had was apparently triggered by a fever that spiked around early November and I didn’t think I would be able to compete until the doctors cleared me. I was actually in pain in some areas of my back muscles while I was running, and I was adjusting to the new medication at a different time zone.” Ben Bluemound told Virtus.
Athletes spoke highly of each other, of the bond they created and shared over the two-day event. They thoroughly enjoyed staying together, being roommates, having meals together, practising and participating in the event together and appreciating the time which is usually missed through the lack of training camps. The primary reason behind this appears to be the lack of funding.
Brinen, who is the owner and head coach of Badger Track Club in Madison, Wisconsin and a ‘lululemon Ambassador, has been the head coach of team USA since 2019 and is working closely with AWL attempting to create connections and unify athletes across the country which has been a ‘fairly steep learning curve according to him because although the USA has a national program, getting funding support for para athletes is hard and for athletes with intellectual impairment is even harder.
“Many countries have well-funded national programs which unfortunately we (USA) don’t have, and this makes it very difficult to build a team and train it to get the results we want to achieve. All our athletes are spread across the country and I coach only a couple of them but the rest have their own personal coaches. All I can do in this situation is to kind of coordinate with their parents/personal trainers and coach them. Those nations who have national programs or regular training camps get to spend time coaching the athletes for multiple years. I don’t have that advantage. I hope people in our government or other sponsors see what’s going on and come forward to support us.”
Scott further shared how parents are struggling to find coaches for their children whether it’s in their city or state because of the extra attention or support they need. Many parents end up training their kids themselves which puts a lot of pressure on them as they have to squeeze in the training time alongside their full-time job.
Many Virtus members worldwide face similar issues and have been making their own arrangements whether by fundraising or self-finance to fund their players for Virtus events and other championships. This certainly puts pressure on everyone to have added expenses and is even harder for those at an economic disadvantage.
“If teams like the USA are struggling for funding, we can imagine just how hard it is for some of our smaller or developing nations. I hope governments and organisations come forward to help elite athletes with an intellectual impairment to achieve their sporting dream” said Mr Marc Truffaut, President of Virtus.