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Alumni Profile

Jonathon Riall

BSc Sports & Exercise Development 2005

Jonathon Riall graduated from the University with a BSc Sports & Exercise Development degree in 2005, and in less than a decade has risen to the top of his chosen sport, triathlon. In 2016 he will lead Team GB’s first ever Paratriathlon team in the Rio Olympics.

As Performance Manager I have an umbrella role. We have a programme in total of about 28 athletes, with seven of those based full time at our Performance Centre, and the rest are either ‘Talent’ athletes we’re working with, or are on the Performance Programme, but due to their disability are home based.  It’s my responsibility to manage what goes on in Loughborough, but I also work really closely with the coaches of those ‘remote’ athletes. I keep a check on the system that they have set up in their home environment so that if ultimately there’s anything that they need they can access it for me.

“I lead the Paratriathlon Team that sits within performance.  There are two Performance Managers for Team GB, one for the Olympic programme and one for the Paralympic programme, which is me.

As we are part of the Paralympics programme we have the added joy of the classification programme, which is a necessity within Paralympics sports.

“We have partnerships with equipment manufacturers, but with the Para programme equipment can be anything from bikes to prosthetic arms or legs.  We also have a classification for Visually Impaired (VI) and blind athletes, and these athletes obviously need to have guides. We run a programme to identify and develop guides who race alongside the VI athletes, so that ultimately they have the fastest possible partnership when they enter the racetrack, pool or velodrome.

“I am also Team Leader for the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Each sport that goes to the Olympics will have a Team Leader, and in the run up to the Games that is beginning to kick in.  Ultimately, for a month in September 2016 I stop working for British Triathlon and become a part of Team GB.”

Rio 2016 is the first time that Paratriathlon will be staged.

“I started this job in October 2009, and at the time we were hoping Paralympics would get into the Games, but we were competing against seven other sports. In December 2010 we got the news that the IPC had selected triathlon and canoeing as the two new Paralympic disciplines.  We weren’t ready for London 2012. As amazing as it would have been to be involved in a home Games the sport itself wasn’t mature enough, or the standard of athletes high enough."

Jonathon was born in Sunderland, and his home University was his first choice.  It is, he says, a choice he has never regretted.

“If I studied at Loughborough University I would have been a small fish in a really big pond, but the University of Sunderland spotted my talent and gave me the support I needed.

“My degree has really helped me in my career. On the most basic level, you don’t really get interviews anymore unless you have a degree, but Sport and Exercise Development was the perfect degree for me.

“Part of the course was physiologically based, but there was a very strong management and development element. I was also on an elite athletes programme for triathlon, which covered travel and expenses and that helped me further my athletic career and my overall experience.  When I finished my degree I applied for an administrator’s role at British Triathlon, and after eight months applied for a regional manager’s role.

“The Paratriathlon role wasn’t a pure performance role, it was at least 50 per cent development, and I’d done enough outside of my day job, and enough during my time at university to land that role.

 “I’d been able to get strong foundations at university. I was club captain of my local triathlon club and an active member of the University swimming club, and I think a good understanding of how clubs work, not just as an athlete but from a management point of view, was critical for me.

“Had I been interested in cycling or swimming, two sports which are way more established than triathlon, I was certainly never have gotten the opportunity I did age 25. It was a new sport which was developing, and my career kind of developed with it.

A degree is great, but if you want to work in sport, the first question anyone will ask you is, ‘OK, but what else have you done?’  There’s what you learn at University, but there’s also how you go out and apply that knowledge, and there are so many opportunities to volunteer in sport – and if you haven’t gone down that route while at Uni, you really don’t stand a chance.

“While I was at Sunderland I was still head coach of my school swimming club, which I would do on a Thursday and Friday morning before Uni.  I used to coach a junior athletics club after I finished on an evening, and I was club captain of my triathlon club. 

“That experience separates those who want to simply learn about sport, from those who want to work hard and get engrained in a sporting career.”

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