By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
Future Team Toba triathletes are inching closer and closer to the starting line of their races in Niagara next summer.
We spoke with Head Coach Gary Pallett, Assistant Coach Claire Healey, and Triathlon Manitoba Executive Director Jared Spier about all the hard work and rewards that come with the journey, including upcoming training camps, the sense of community at a Canada Games, and the inspiration of seeing Manitoban triathletes shine on national and international stages.
Swim, Cycle, Run
Team Toba triathletes will be racing at the Welland International Flatwater Centre and competing in three different events: the individual sprint distance race with male and female individual categories, the super sprint event with male and female individual categories, and a mixed relay with a team of two males and two females.
But first, months of training lie ahead before team selection next spring.
Over the summer, triathletes did much of their training at Birds Hill Provincial Park. This winter, they’ll head indoors, primarily training at the University of Manitoba.
They’ll be traveling south for three camps in the U.S., too.
“Our first camp in Tucson over the New Years break,” said Gary. “Our second camp is in Florida in early March, where we will also do two races. Our final camp will be a spring break camp in Tucson in early April. After being locked in basements last winter to train, the extra camps and the mental stimulus they will add will be important in helping us do the extra work we plan to do this winter.”
“They’re still balancing that with school and everything else, and jobs for many of them. It’s a pretty impressive undertaking,” said Jared.
Claire, who is a triathlete turned coach and is no stranger to training for a Canada Games triathlon competition, remembers how demanding it can be.
“I know from personal experience that the training period leading up to Canada Games is insanely challenging. It’s probably the hardest training you’ll ever do in your life, but the rewards of that are outstanding and phenomenal.”
The Mental Game
Triathlon is an endurance race. Certainly, this requires a great deal of physical training.
But there’s another piece to the training puzzle.
“Being able to prepare mentally for a race so that you can focus exclusively on your race instead of external factors I know is something I personally always struggled with. Helping the athletes prepare that way is something that’s really important to me,” said Claire. “We’ve worked a lot with Sport Psychologist Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood. I know she’s been really helpful to a lot of our athletes in that mental preparation.”
Some people may be unaware of just how much is happening at once in triathlon.
“It’s not just swimming and biking and running – there’s so much strategy, technique and tactic that’s involved in the racing, which is one of the really fun parts. But you do have to be very alert and very aware of what’s going on.”
So if a triathlete is not able to hone their mental focus, it can impact their race quiet significantly.
“I think the mental preparation is just as important, if maybe not more important than the physical training. Because if you’re in the right mindset, you can really utilize the full extent of your training,” said Claire.
Manitoba’s Triathlon Success
Future Team Toba triathletes are up to the task of combining the physical and mental training to follow in the footsteps of many Manitobans before them.
“We have a strong history of top performances in past Canada Games. Regardless of the barriers placed in front of us, we will try to perform to our best ability at the upcoming games, and do all the preparation we can,” said Gary.
Seeing that success motivates and inspires young triathletes.
“The success that Manitoba triathletes have had at the highest level — it’s phenomenal. So, you know you can get there from here,” said Jared.
“I can’t underestimate the importance of role models coming from the program,” Gary added.
Athletes like Sarah Anne Brault, who lead the team into the 2009 Canada Games and went on to become the first alternate for the 2012 Olympics before making the Olympic Team in 2016.
Another is Tyler Mislawchuk, who Gary said learned from Sarah and went on to make the Olympic team in both 2016 and 2020, and Kyla Roy, who competed at the 2017 Canada Games and went on to win the division 1 NCAA triathlon championships at Arizona State University.
“[The triathletes I coach] look up to these athletes and they look up to each other on the team, but also everyone who’s competed before them, so it’s really nice to see,” said Claire.
Gary has raced and coached triathlon for more than three decades and has gone to every Canada Games since triathlon became a part of the event.
Claire has had impressive performances competing in two Canada Games, one as an alpine ski athlete at winter games and the other as a triathlete at the 2017 summer games in Winnipeg, where she captured a silver medal with her relay team.
They both know firsthand that these games are truly distinct.
“Canada Games is special, because it is a multi-sport game and for many of the athletes, this will be the pinnacle event of their athletic careers. For those going on to higher levels of competition, it serves as a learning experience prior to future multi-sport games,” said Gary.
Some of his favourite memories are seeing his athletes reach the podium.
“I take so much enjoyment after an athlete or relay team has committed so much work into accomplishing something,” said Gary. “I really enjoy watching when all that work pays off in a medal.”
And while it centres around the competition, the games don’t fail to deliver all the other elements that come with sport – impactful connections, lasting friendships, and new experiences.
“It actually blows my mind a little bit of how different it is and how unique of a competition environment that it is,” said Claire. “The biggest difference is the camaraderie that you see at these events. You’re in an athlete village with this group for a week, so it gives you a chance to meet people and develop friendships with people from not only other provinces, but other sports,” said Claire.
In fact, Claire had an unexpected reunion on Queen’s University campus this fall with a former games competitor.
“Now I see her and we’re friends, and we get to hang out and chat. It’s a connection that I developed through Canada Games.”
Advice for Future Team Toba Triathletes
Jared said the triathletes are lucky with the leaders they have in coaching and training.
“The advice they’re getting is the best advice they can get,” said Jared. “I think every athlete is going to go with the idea of making the most of it.”
Claire gives a special shout out to Gary, too, for his dedication to coaching.
“Gary has been such a huge part of my life. He is an incredible coach and he really gave me confidence in my sporting ability. I was kind of someone who never felt super confident about my ability to excel in a sport, and he really gave me that,” said Claire.
Regardless of final results, Gary believes these games will be special as it’s another step in the return to normalcy as the last couple of years have been tough on everyone.
Claire adds a trip for the athletes to remain focused on the training and to remind yourself of the end goals.
“Keep in mind that the reason you’re putting in all this hard work is to succeed at the games and to excel, not only for yourself, but for your teammates.”
Don’t Miss a Beat
To learn more about triathlon, check out their website. They’re always looking for young athletes to join the community, including those with swim and run backgrounds.
For Claire, the welcoming sense of community is what made her fall in love with the sport and continue with it all these years.
“I like to say we all suffer together, so it is grueling, and the training is so demanding, but the fact that you’re doing it with this group of people, it’s a connection that you can’t really get elsewhere. I’m still super good friends with all of my old training partners, just because we went through this insane experience together and it’s such a bonding factor.”