It’s been more than a decade since Laura Richard left home to earn her Ph.D in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Oxford in England. Now 31, and in the midst of her career with Procter & Gamble in Brussels, Belgium, Richard is about to tackle another challenge, this time in the demanding and grueling sport of triathlon.
Specifically, she’ll wear the Canadian colours in the 30-35 female division of ITU Triathlon Age Group World Championships in Rotterdam from Sept 14-17, the latest sporting accomplishment in a career that’s included a berth on the prestigious Oxford rowing team.
“I am excited to represent Canada and that will be something special,” said Richard, who completed a vacation back home in Fredericton earlier this week. “I do not know if I will ever be able to do this again. I like sport, I like competing, so it will be a fun day to see what I can do and test myself against some really good athletes.”
At the world event, she will swim 1,500 metres, cycle 40 kilometres and finish with a 10-kilometre run in an event featuring 8,000 of the world’s best, all competing for gold in various divisions.
Richard’s path to Team Canada was not conventional, a fitting route perhaps, given her path to the world of triathlon was not exactly normal either.
It happened, in large part, because her rowing career ended due to a hand injury. Needing an exercise outlet, she picked running and cycling.
“A lot of my friends at the time were running and cycling, so I thought I’d do that – it was something to keep fit,” she said of her need for an alternative.
At the time, running was not a major part of her regimen, a vehicle for fitness, nothing more than that and certainly not anything that equated to race-day competition.
“Once my favourite sport was gone, I had to find something else, so I started to run a lot more,” Richard said. “At that point, it was just for fitness and to avoid going crazy. I came from a sport where I was rowing at a high-level, twice a day, every day.”
To shut down completely would have proven difficult, especially considering the positive side effects of rowing, the mental and psychological ones that allowed her to detach from her studies and then the intensity of her professional career.
It didn’t take long for her to appreciate the common aspects rowing and running share and reasonably quickly, she was in the competition mode once again.
“In the physical sense, it is not such a hard transition and with running, what I like, is that you can explore a bit more,” Richard said. “In rowing, you go up and down the same stretch of river 100 times but with running, you can explore a lot of different routes. You are not really limited.”
It was not until a few years ago that she considered triathlon, a notion developed through conversations with some friends after her move to Brussels from England.
The concern was she could not swim well. Yet, those skills developed with support of friends in her triathlon club, patience and encouragement of a good coach and her own fierce determination.
“My first swim session was horrible but I stuck with it,” she explained. “I gradually did one lap, got a bit faster and now I survive the swim leg. Then, I’ll get on the bike and do better and finally, I’ll run and I am really in stride.“
Her initial triathlon steps led to some racing in Belgium and the Netherlands and last summer, her results were impressive, especially at a Team Belgium qualifier where she met the standard to represent that country at the world championships. She was not a citizen and therefore, not eligible. However, she was encouraged to ask officials back home if there was room for her on the Canadian team.
So she wrote to the Team Canada organizers, saying that while she did not attend the prerequisite Canadian qualifiers, she did race the Belgian qualifier and wondered if her times could be used to support her bid for a roster spot.
An official replied that if space was available once the Canadian qualifiers were posted, her clocking could indeed work. The event is self-funded for those competing in the age class divisions and is taking place in the Netherlands, aspects which combined to provide an opportunity for Richard, given her Belgian residency.
“Fortunately, they had a spot,” she said. “It will be the first time I will wear the maple leaf jersey so that is pretty exciting. I am mostly doing it for that reason.”
In the coming weeks, she will train for the event with Belgian athletes who will also race in Rotterdam, swim in her group and ride with friends, meaning it won’t be a lonely venture, despite being thousands of kilometres from home or her Canadian teammates.
Kevin Barrett’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.