Ten years ago Paula Findlay was the top women’s triathlete in the world. The Edmonton native went into the 2012 Summer Olympics hopeful that she would win a gold medal.
Plagued by a hip injury and suffering from anemia, she ended up dead last in London and, heartbroken, wept at the finish line.
“Looking back 10 years it is kind of sad what I went through,” Findlay said recently. “There had been so many expectations.
“I probably would have benefited from taking time off to heal, but I kind of put blinders on. I was stubborn and wanted to race at the top.”
She continued but was never able to duplicate the success. Eventually, she turned her attention to competing in much longer endurance races.
“I was looking for another outlet after I was done with Olympic sport,” Findlay said. “I had done that for 10 years and it was exhausting. It burned me out.
“I never imagined I would still be racing as a 33-year-old.”
Findlay is 10th-ranked among women in the new Professional Triathletes Organisation, which will stage its inaugural event on July 23 and 24 in Edmonton. The US$1-million Canadian Open includes a two-kilometre swim, an 80-kilometre bike ride in the North Saskatchewan River Valley and an 18-kilometre run.
Daniela Ryf of Switzerland is No. 1 in the women’s rankings, with Tamara Jewett of Toronto (18) and Jen Annett of Penticton, B.C., (76) the only other Canadians in the top 100.
“It is hard to say how I am going to do,” Findlay said. “My whole career I have believed if I can approach a race healthy I can win.
“Everyone will be gunning for this one but I can’t control how anyone else does. All I can do is do my best and if I do I have a feeling I could be on the podium.”
The Professional Triathletes Organisation was established by the athletes and also includes the US$1.5-million Ryder Cup-style Collins Cup in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Aug. 20 and 21, and the U.S. Open in Irving, Tex., on Sept. 17 and 18. All events offer minimum prize money of US$1-million with an additional US$2-million pool to be distributed at the end of the season.
The tour is co-owned by the athletes and was established to help increase the popularity of the sport and to garner more attention.
“[It’s] all about elevating our athletes’ amazing exploits and compelling stories,” said Sam Renouf, the chief executive officer of the organization. “It is about putting them on a global platform so more sports fans across Canada and around the world can watch them and be inspired by them.”
Findlay’s partner, Eric Lagerstrom of Portland, Ore., is ranked 59th and will participate in the men’s division. Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway is No. 1, with Lionel Saof Windsor, Ont., fifth and Cody Beals of Guelph, Ont., 41st.
Findlay and Lagerstrom have been together for five years and their relationship grew after they met at a race in Beijing.
“It didn’t turn into anything at first, but eventually we figured out we were so similar we decided to give it a try,” Findlay said.
Both started to swim at an early age and then gravitated toward running as teenagers. They now train together in Oregon and Canmore, Alta., and often travel between venues in a van.
Findlay’s mother, Sheila, designed the course for the Canadian Open and Findlay feels she has a home-field advantage because she knows the roads and landscape very well.
“I look at the map and know exactly what it is like,” she said.
In late 2020, she won a 70-mile-plus Iron Man competition in Florida and feels she is regaining her form.
“I believe I can get back to where I was,” Findlay said. “There is always a balancing act between training enough to be the best in the world but not so much to be broken.”
She looks forward to competing in the city where she grew up.
“It is important for me to make it feel like a big race,” Findlay said. “It is important to get my head into a place where I am competing and not at home for a visit.”