Meet the Match

A Former Triathlete Brings Female Officials to the Forefront

At 5 years old, Shanelle Barrett begged her dad to let her accompany him to the Taupo Harriers Club so she could run with the club. But unfortunately, according to the sports club policies, she was too young. So she did what any headstrong little girl would do, she ran anyway.

“As a child I was extremely determined and competitive,” Shanelle recalls. “By the age of 10, I finished my first triathlon. In the same year, I was invited to be part of the closing ceremonies for the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand. After watching these amazing, elite athletes, I declared to my Mum that I would become one and make it to the Olympics one day.”

Years later, Shanelle was on the cusp of making the New Zealand triathlon team for the Athens 2004 Games, but came down with a debilitating illness, glandular fever, and was bed-ridden for six months. Doctors advised her it would be detrimental to her health to continue to race. This experience was a crushing blow to an athlete who had spent the last 15 years of her life training for an Olympic opportunity.

Undefeated, however, Shanelle was determined to reach her Olympic goals. With her racing career over, she set her sights on a new pursuit – becoming an internationally qualified technical official for the sport of triathlon. In 2012, Shanelle achieved her lifelong dream and was selected as part of the officiating team for the London Olympics.

“When I first came into officiating, you maybe saw two or three female officials involved,” Shanelle says. “So I thought it’d be a good challenge to try and change that. And now, in New Zealand, we probably have 80 percent women officials. We are a developed nation and have broken down a lot of barriers between males and females already, but we don’t want to get complacent.”

Shanelle is unyielding, competitive, and driven. In her role as technical and events advisor for Triathlon New Zealand, the national governing body for triathlon, duathlon, aquathon and cross triathlon, she is responsible for taking the technical program from “the dark side” of an, old school, male-dominated culture to increased participation and access for women and persons with disabilities. Shanelle works closely with Paralympics NZ, the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation, and Parafeds to accomplish her inclusion goals.

During her time in the United States, Shanelle wants to learn new strategies for working in a multicultural environment to promote diversity and inclusivity. Although she has been in event management for 15 years, she feels there is more to learn and ways to scale the sport both in access, marketing, and promotions. Shanelle also hopes to gain greater insight into mentoring programs for women – as athletes, officials, and professionals in the sports field – to propel women of all abilities forward in a unified effort.

Joan Coraggio, group director of brand integration, and her team at Saatchi & Saatchi will provide Shanelle with the solid combination of passion, expertise, and innovation as well as the energizing support she needs to continue fighting for women and persons with disabilities in New Zealand. Joan and her team are creative geniuses who can whiteboard and find solutions to the most difficult challenges. Saatchi’s incredible partnership with Paralympians, including Amy Purdy, and their longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion may provide Shanelle with new and creative ideas in the disability sports sphere. In addition, Saatchi has experience working in the triathlon space and valuable connections with USA Triathlon and the Southern California Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, both of which will offer insightful event management experiences for Shanelle. With such ripe opportunities for Shanelle to make a difference in the realm of diversity and inclusion, we believe Joan and Saatchi are the best to help her navigate an action plan around sport and human rights.

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