ITU Athletes ready for World stage

Canada will be represented by Rossland and Nelson residents at the International Triathlon Union’s World Championships.

The West Kootenay will be well represented in Auckland, N.Z. on Oct. 22 when Eva Gifford and Barb Shields of Rossland, and Denise Uhrynuk of Nelson represent Canada at the International Triathlon Union’s World Championships.

Unlike the Ironman, the ITU World Triathlon Series is an innovative series that allows athletes to compete head-to-head according to level, age group, and specialty, ranging from the world’s elite to recreational racers, that includes team competition  and even a kids event.

All three women qualified for Team Canada by racing at the 2011 Pushor Mitchell Apple Triathlon in Kelowna, and will now compete alongside the world’s best in their age groups.

They embody the diverse cross-section of participating athletes with Gifford, a 20-year-old student taking a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology at the University of Victoria, hoping to earn her elite racing card within the next season.

Shields runs her own counselling and personal training businesses in Trail, and Uhrynuk is a physiotherapist at Kootenay Lake Hospital and 23-year veteran of the sport of triathlon.

Not one of them went to the Apple Triathlon intending to qualify for the World Championships, although they all knew beforehand that it was a possibility.

“I knew when entering the (Kelowna Apple) triathlon that it was a qualifier for New Zealand,” says Uhrynuk, who will be competing in the 45-49 Olympic distance event. “I didn’t do it specifically to qualify, but thought that if I did, I would consider it. I had done the Apple a few times and my kids had done the Kids of Steel many times. I was completely shocked when I came in fourth in my age group. My family and friends convinced me to sign up. I have been psyched for it ever since.”

The athletes have also endured their share of injuries leading up to the October event. For Gifford they came at the start of her triathlon career, which kicked off at the Wasa Lake Triathlon in  2010.

“I loved running, and the fact that I was getting some overuse injuries from straight running, it seemed like a good idea to throw in some cross-training to help mix things up a bit. Luckily, I fell in love with cycling… and now – two years later – I can truthfully say that I love swimming too.”

Gifford is coached by Noa Deutsch in Victoria who has given her the motto “think long term” and is viewing her current layoff as the opportunity to improve herself and her level of performance.

Shields’ first attempt at triathlon was at age 52 in 2009. Having struggled with her weight most of her life she made a change when she turned 50 and committed to getting fit. After a couple years at the gym she heard a radio advertisement for the Christina Lake triathlon.

“They gave the distances as 750-metre swim (about 30 lengths of the pool), 20-km bike ride, and a 5-km run and this little thought came into my head – ‘I can do that.’ I had ten weeks to train,” said Sheilds.

Sheilds completed the race and a week later signed up for a race in Kelowna in August looking to improve her time.

“I had a great race, and actually qualified for the world championships then but didn’t meet all the other qualifications,” added Shields.

For Uhrynuk, it was a love interest who sparked her passion for the sport of triathlon back in Victoria in 1989.

“My boyfriend (now husband) was doing them and got me interested,” said Uhrynuk. “I had always been a runner, loved to swim and did a lot of cycling so putting them together seemed to make sense. My first triathlon was the Sri Chinmoy in Victoria. A warm lake swim, scenic bike and great trail run around Elk Lake. One race and I was hooked.”

Still nursing a foot injury, Gifford is abstaining from competition for the summer to ensure she is in good condition going into the race in Auckland, while both Shields and Uhrynuk have had great results racing this summer already.

Both finished third in their age groups at the Apple triathlon in Kelowna last month, where they had earned their way to New Zealand the previous year.

As a community, to witness and be inspired by these everyday people taking on a challenge on the level of a World Championship event is an opportunity to be valued.

“We think we can figure out what we really want from the sidelines but we can’t. We have to get in the game – whatever that might be – and then things start to happen. I would want people to hear this story and be inspired to go for something they might be holding back on,” says sprint distance competitor Shields.

A sentiment echoed by Gifford, who will compete in the Olympic distance race.

“I think that the Trail/Rossland area will see that you can do anything you put your mind to. Triathlon is a sport that anyone can do – you don’t have to be an Ironman to be a triathlete. The High Altitude Triathlon Club is a great resource for anyone looking for training around the area.”

It is bound to be a thrilling and emotional trip for these women, and the community can keep track of how the event unfolds on the website where results and live video is available.

“I’ll be the one on the beach wiggling into my wet suit with tears running down my face because I am doing something I never dreamed possible,” said Shields.