By Scott Stanfield
Tenille Hoogland did what she had to do in order to train as a professional triathlete.
She left a government job in Ottawa, sold her belongings and moved to Courtenay, where she can live with family members, and swim, bike and run while enjoying the splendour of the Comox Valley.
Mornings are generally spent at the Lewis Centre outdoor pool, where she loves the odd 30-metre lengths and the absence of lane ropes during a 90-minute swim. She was pleasantly surprised with the Vanier track, considering the conditions of athletic facilities at most towns. As for cycling, she has become familiar with just about every roadway in and around the Valley since moving here in July.
“I do it full-time,” said Hoogland, 33. “This is all I do.”
Her training has paid off.
Come Sept. 11, she will represent Canada in Las Vegas, Nev. at the 70.3 World Ironman Championships, a half-Ironman consisting of a 1.9-kilometre swim, 90k cycle and a half-marathon. She will then set her sights on the International Triathlon Union long course worlds, also in Vegas, in early-November.
Hoogland’s strengths are in the water and on two wheels while she “hangs on” in the run, which has been hampered by plantar fasciitis and other issues. The discrepancy was evident at the Viterra half-Ironman July 31 in Calgary, which she won by six seconds over Sara Gross after building a commanding lead in the water and on her bicycle.
It was her first win at the half-Ironman distance. As an added bonus, Hoogland is the first Canadian to win the Viterra competition that TSN aired on Sunday.
The Calgary race was the third half-Ironman Hoogland crammed into a period of three weeks in order to prepare for worlds.
But cramming is nothing new to the late bloomer who discovered her chosen sport many years later than most of her competitors.
Is age a concern?
“I’m in my prime,” said Hoogland, noting women peak later than men in her chosen sport. “I’m just getting started… Until I’m satisfied I just keep going.”
Until July, Hoogland had moved every two weeks while following a rigorous racing and training schedule. She divides her time between the Valley and Austin, Texas, where she is coached by Zane Castro, whom she found through her previous coach in Ottawa. But since Texas is “way too hot” this time of year, the Valley is her chosen training locale for the time being.
Aside from facilities, Hoogland requires massage therapy, physiotherapy, chiropractic realignment, supplement support and a bike shop, all of which she has found in the Valley.
“It’s not everywhere you go that people can grasp the challenges of an elite athlete,” she said.
The Victoria-born Hoogland lived in Calgary until age 11 before moving back to B.C. After graduating from Port Moody Secondary, she returned to Calgary for a stint, lived overseas and spent four years in Ottawa working for the federal government. She has taken a two-year leave from her job.
Hoogland’s background is synchronized swimming. After reaching the top of the sport in B.C. in 1994, she trained full-time the following year with a Calgary club. Her goal was to compete at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“I think it was too overwhelming for me,” she said, noting the commitment prevented her from attending university. “I got lost in it. It’s tough to compete in a judged sport.”
After stepping away from sports for nine years — during which time she obtained a masters in public administration from Queen’s University — Hoogland put a “toe in the water” by joining a masters swim club in Ottawa. Then she started competing in triathlons, which are more in sync with her character.
“It’s against the clock,” said Hoogland, who describes herself as a Type A personality. “It’s like unfinished business.”
She competed in her first sprint triathlon in 2005, and became a full-time professional athlete in 2010. When racing at the Olympic distance she had hoped to make the Canadian team for the 2012 London Games but did not make standard. She then switched to the non-Olympic half-Ironman distance.
She gets by on her savings, race earnings, and the hospitality of family and friends who have provided rent-free accommodations the past year-and-a-half.
“I can’t overstay my welcome,” said Hoogland, who has “lived in too many homes to count in Austin.”
No wonder she is craving a home base, which she seems to have found in the Valley, though she is nervous about the winters.
“Which is why I’m a fairweather Courtenay resident,” quipped Hoogland, noting 35 Celsius temperatures in Vegas. “One of the challenges living north is when you race in the south you’re not used to heat as much, but at the same time you can get good training.”
She crashed on her bike at the recent Sooke International Olympic Distance Race, throwing out her hip and limping her way through the run.
“So that wasn’t such a great day,” she said.
But the sweetness of the Viterra victory still resonates.
“It was such an incredible thing to be able to be part of and do,” Hoogland said.