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Are Paratriathlon & Triathlon the Same?

Yes, with some exceptions…both triathlon and paratriathlon involve Swim, Bike, and Run, but there are some exceptions and rules that are different.

Outside assistance

In triathlon, the athlete is not allowed to receive outside assistance from anyone on the course, unless they are a representative of the Race Director, a volunteer, or approved bike support. This ensures that everyone is competing on an equal playing field. In paratriathlon, the rules differ based upon category and level of disability. Athletes in the PTWC (wheelchair) division and other approved PTS (standing) athletes are allowed assistance in transition. The athlete’s assistants are called handlers, and they are allowed to assist in multiple ways, such as helping with a prosthetic, lifting athletes in and out of handcycles and wheelchairs, racking the bike in transition, and performing bike repairs in transition or other official wheel stations. Additionally, PTVI (visually impaired) athletes are allowed to receive assistance from their guide, but nobody else.

In addition to handlers that are assigned to specific athletes, paratriathletes can utilize the assistance of swim exit assistants. These individuals are chosen and trained by the Race Director and their staff. They assist athletes from the swim exit to the pre-transition area. Personal handlers are not allowed to assist with this, and are not allowed in the swim exit area.


Many races have long transitions. Triathletes exit the water and run whatever distance it is from the swim exit to their assigned transition rack. I have raced where transition with almost a half mile from the swim exit! Paratriathletes, after exiting the water, are assisted to the pre-transition area. Pre-transition is where the athlete has access to their prosthetic legs, crutches, or a day chair to assist in getting them to the transition area. Personal handlers are allowed to assist the athlete in the pre-transition area, but CAN NOT propel them forward in any way unless authorized by the Race Director (big hill from pre-transition to transition, sand, etc.).


USA Triathlon rules for triathletes state: “Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wetsuit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wet suit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wet suits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit.”

For PTWC athletes, wetsuits are allowed above 78 degrees Fahrenheit to aid in buoyancy and help compensate for the lack of a kick. This buoyancy decreases the drag caused by the legs falling down during the swim. Additionally, even if the swim is determined to be non-wetsuit legal, PTWC athletes can utilize lava pants or shorts to aid with buoyancy.

Riding in Transition

Triathletes are not permitted to ride their bikes in transition, and must mount the bike after the “mount line” and dismount the bike before entering transition after the bike is completed. The PTWC division is the only division allowed to ride their bikes in transition. PTWC athletes ride from their transition area to the mount line, then at the mount line must come to a COMPLETE STOP before proceeding on the bike course. Then upon arrival back to transition after the bike, the athlete must again come to a COMPLETE STOP before heading into the transition area. All other paratriathlon categories may not mount their bikes until after the mount line and must dismount before the dismount line.

There are a few other minor rule variations that apply to paratriathletes, but these are the major rule differences between competing in a triathlon versus a paratriathlon.

Have questions about paratriathlon and how to get started in the sport? Feel free to reach out to me at


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