Proof comes once again this weekend that the Cowichan Valley is a hotbed for worldclass athletes as four local athletes, and a fifth with local roots, head to Edmonton for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final this weekend.
Cowichan athletes Lisa Large, Lisa Helmer, Lesley Hartford and Cam McDiarmid will represent Canada in their respective age groups at the massive annual event. Andrew Weston, who grew up in the Valley but now calls Ottawa home, will also be part of the field.
Of the local participants, most qualified through the Shawnigan Lake Triathlon, although Large had to go through a race in Vancouver because she volunteers for the Shawnigan event.
What makes triathlon in general – and the Grand Final specifically – unique, said Large, is that newcomers to the sport race alongside the best in the world.
"One of the great things about triathlon is that you can compete at the same time as these elite athletes," she said.
There will be 73 different countries represented at the Grand Final, with each one getting one spot per age group.
"As far as I know, they all went through the same qualifying process in their respective countries," Large said.
Last year’s Grand Final was held in London, and Large has looked at the times from that event, so she knows what to expect. She’s not putting a lot of pressure on herself.
"I want to go out and have a really good race and enjoy the experience. I don’t have a set goal. I have an idea of where my time will be, and I expect to be in the middle of the group."
Large started doing triathlons about 10 years ago, then took a break to have two kids. She got back into the sport about three years ago. She enjoys the balance between the three components of the sport.
"I love running, and I used to race mountain bikes before this," she noted. "But just running alone, I was too prone to injury. You don’t have to be great at any one of the sports, but as long as you can do all three, you can do reasonably well."
The founder of the local Aspire Triathlon Club and a coach with Kids of Steel summer camps, Large is also working with Sarah Malerby to help create triathlon clubs at local elementary schools.
Because of the quiet lakes for swimming, many roads and trails for cycling and running, and a big community of runners, the Cowichan Valley is a perfect training area for triathletes, hence the impressive number of local entries in the Grand Final. "Here, we have probably the best training area for triathlon in Canada," Large said.
For Weston, who grew up in the Cowichan Valley and attended Cowichan Station and Duncan Christian schools, the Grand Final in Edmonton will be one of 13 long-distance races he’s taking part in this year: four half marathons, eight triathlons and one full marathon, all to raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation Born with a heart defect, Weston’s life was saved thanks to surgery when he was just 14 months old. By the age of 12, he was free of annual checkups, and ran his first marathon at 29. His goal is to swim, run and cycle a total of 500 kilometres this year, raising $10,000 for Heart and Stroke.