EDMONTON – Professional triathlete Paula Findlay might have to reconsider moving training camps permanently to the Bow Valley.
Fresh off winning silver and a cool $70,000 at the inaugural Professional Triathletes Organization (PTO) Canadian Open in Edmonton on July 23, the 33-year-old triathlon star was in the Bow Valley the past month preparing for the world’s best triathletes.
The Edmonton-native said she’s thrilled with the outcome, albeit exhausted, that her hard work at high elevation paid off big under unfamiliar circumstances.
“If you drive into Edmonton, you see banners of my face. I was kind of used for a little bit of the promotion for the event, but that comes with a lot of pressure," said Findlay, who was surprised at the hero’s welcome she received in her hometown. “So the fact I was able to have a good day was super relieving and I’m driving away pretty happy and exhausted at the same time."
On top of banners and extra media coverage, the PTO released a short documentary on Findlay that cemented her as one of the faces of the inaugural competition. It was a full circle moment for Findlay, who remembered when the triathlon world cup came to Edmonton more than two decades ago. As a young girl she was eager to get autographs from the likes of national champ Simon Whitfield, and, now, found herself in the same shoes.
“It was pretty shocking to see how many people recognized me and Eric [Lagerstrom] and follow us and know our story," she said. “I think social media has also been a big part of that."
One of the things she loved the most was taking photos with fans and inspiring others.
Currently ranked 10th in the world in women’s triathlon, the 2012 Olympian balanced the bright spotlight without losing focus on the demanding race in front of her.
Race day started with a two-kilometre swim at Hawrelak Park Lake, where Findlay emerged 71 seconds behind leader Vittória Lopes of Brazil.
Findlay had a bit of inside knowledge of the course because her mom, Sheila, was the competition manager and designed it.
Transitioning to cycling, which is Findlay’s strongest discipline, the determined Canuck “rode as hard as possible" and overtook the fading Lopes for control of the race during the second lap of four in the 80-kilometre bike course.
“I tried to be assertive when I passed her to show she couldn’t stay on my wheel," Findlay said.
Findlay recorded the fastest bike split on the day in 1:55:11, and put herself up by two minutes heading into the final 18km foot race to close out the triathlon.
After surprising many and winning the women’s time trials at the Canadian Road Championships in June, Findlay knew on two wheels was her best chance at creating as much distance as possible between her and the pack.
Australian Ashleigh Gentle took over second spot in cycling and started to cut into Findlay’s lead during the run. At around the 8km mark, the Aussie, who is "on another level of running" passed the Canadian for top spot and never looked back.
Gentle won her first PTO race and the $100,000 grand prize in 3:30:53.
The hometown girl took silver and $70,000 in 3:33:16, and winning bronze and $50,000 was Chelsea Sodaro (3:34:56) of the United States.
“I’m a little exhausted, but I'm super happy,” said Findlay. “I don’t come home very often so there’s this mix of touching up with friends and also balancing this huge race, so at the end of it all I'm pretty tired, but I'm super proud I could execute a race despite all the pressure that was put on me.”
In the men’s race on July 24, Lionel Sanders was the top Canadian in seventh place in 3:15.49.
Findlay and her partner Lagerstrom split time between Canada and their home in Bend, Oregon, but they trained in the Bow Valley’s high-elevation outdoor playground in preparation for the big day.
It’s not the first time they've sought refuge in town before a major competition.
In fall 2020 as wildfire ravished the northwestern U.S. state, Findlay's training camp moved to the Canmore family home before she travelled to Florida, where she had the race of her life and won the PTO Championship in Daytona and the $100,000 grand prize that came with it.
“I’ve been coming to Canmore since I was little, but I never really used it as a training base in the summer before this last little camp we did and it's really good," said Findlay. “The biggest shock to us over the past month was how busy it’s gotten in Banff and Canmore and so we had to be pretty intentional about the times of day we would go and train.”
Banff was their consistent cycling destination, and Canmore’s Quarry Lake and Elevation Place were the go-to swimming holes. Some days, sharp-eyed residents or visitors might have caught Findlay charging up the steep gravel road Three Sisters Parkway.
“It’s a lot different than it is in the summer than it is in the fall, you can kind of use the roads a lot more and you can kind of use the trails,” said Findlay.
On their YouTube channel, That Triathlete Life, the pair made a short video about their routine in the Bow Valley in preparation for the PTO.
Findlay has been making headlines in the sport for more than a decade from becoming the first Canadian to win a World Triathlon Series in 2010 to a disappointing Games experience in 2012 London.
However, following her impressive time trials in cycling, Findlay is in the early stages of deciding what the 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games could be.
“I’m definitely not targeting Paris for triathlon,” said Findlay. “But my success with the bike racing recently has sort of like ignited this question if I could maybe go to the Olympics for cycling, but that’s still kind of undecided. I need to do a little bit more research to see if that is possible.”
In the meantime, Findlay and Lagerstrom will head to Canmore for a few days before travelling across the border. As Canmore has been ground zero for training during their last couple of visits, they are looking forward to the more leisure side of things.