1st-place finisher protests race prayer

The latest blow struck for rational racing by Don Ardell, Florida FFRF member and health and wellness advocate. Don, who turns 75 on July 18, participated in a May 25 triathlon (quarter-mile swim, 15-mile bike, 3-mile run) in Crystal River. Don won first place in his division. His wife, Carol, also participated, finishing second in her age group in just under 90 minutes. Don’s email below is to event coordinator Ashley Truelove, who at press time had failed to respond:


Hi Ashley:

Thanks for inviting an evaluation of the race and suggestions. You can pass my notes along to the race director. Let me begin by expressing kudos for a mostly superb race experience. The course, the management, the awards ceremony, refreshments — well done. My overall takeaway, and Carol’s, was positive. 

However, there was one discordant note that ensures we’ll not be back, unless changes are made. We were startled by the public praying ritual directed to all participants just before the race started. It seems astonishing that a race director would think that a diverse group, about whom you could not know anything regarding their religious preferences but which surely would include many non-Christians, would want to be part of or subjected to a Christian prayer and invocation.

Any praying that affects everyone is rude and inappropriate. Saturday’s prayer time was not even ecumenical in nature. It was in-your-face Christianity. I looked around to see how many were bowing their heads during the not-so-brief worship babble, being curious if others also thought this hugely annoying, as we did. I looked to see what percentage of triathletes were not participating, instead standing with heads unbowed, eyes open and clearly not disposed to publicly praise Jesus or anyone else, at least not now, not here and not when in race mode.

I was pleased to observe that Carol and I were not the only infidels (or Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc.) in attendance, who also were striking a counterpose for strict separation of church and triathlon, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. (Yes, I’m kidding.) 

I don’t know about the others, but we did not travel two hours to Crystal River for a Christian triathlon. If [race director] Chris Moling’s religion is such that he feels that it’s acceptable to impose his beliefs and rituals on everyone, consider a polite alternative: Announce that a Christian prayer or invocation will be held for those interested. This courtesy would give triathletes who came to your event for a secular competition an opportunity to be somewhere else while the prayer business is being conducted. 

Thanks for considering this. I welcome your comments. This topic might make a good story for our Mad Dog Triathlon newsletter and/or the USAT magazine. Maybe USAT should consider guidelines for race directors on the topic.

Religion can be a good thing for some people but it can also be divisive. All of us do not agree on which gods, if any, to worship or how to do it, so it may be a good idea not to unnecessarily divide people who come to your races to compete, not to pray. 

All the best,


Freedom From Religion Foundation