My triathlon story began back on July 23rd, 1995. That was the day my 3 year old son Christopher drowned. I didn’t know it was the beginning of my story, not until many years later. This event made me determined that my other 4 boys would all become good swimmers, and in subsequent years there were swimming lessons, swim team, lifeguard and instructor qualifications, and many hours, for them, in the pool and in the lake. But not me. I was a runner, and not a good swimmer, and the trauma of the drowning made me feel total panic in the water. Then, in 2006, my eldest son Tim announced that he was going to do the Bala Falls triathlon, which was only 20 km from our cottage, and where my sister and brother-in-law and I had on a few occasions competed in the relay, with me doing the running, NOT the swimming. Tim was not particularly fit, but he finished the race, and the next summer one of my nephews and one of my younger sons decided they wanted to do a short event, the Muskoka Kids Tri, and told me I should do it too. I had just turned 51, and I stupidly said ok, then was faced with having to swim 400m in a no-wetsuit, no-lifejacket swim. As the waves before ours went off, I looked out at the buoy, a distant 200m away, and felt nothing but fear. Finally it was time for the ladies to go, and I carefully lined up at the back, wearing a swimsuit, the race swim cap and some goggles that I had never used before. The horn sounded and the ladies ran into the water and began swimming. I walked into the water, and decided that as long as I could touch the bottom, I would just keep walking. Too soon, I had to start to swim, and tried a few strokes of what would likely not be mistaken for front crawl, started to panic and took on some water, and quickly switched to the doggie paddle so that I could keep my face out of the water. Fortunately, there was another woman who was breast stroking beside me, and when she asked if I was actually doing the doggie paddle, I said “yes, it’s my best stroke”. The truth? It was my only stroke. We struggled and gasped our way to the buoy and turned. The shore looked miles away. Treading water for a minute, I fought the panic back down. I told myself I could do this! Slowly we made our way back to solid ground. Oh the joy I felt, the instant my feet touched the bottom. Light-headed and giddy, I stumbled to the bike I had borrowed from a friend, rinsed the sand off my feet in a basin of water, struggled into a pair of running shorts and an old styrofoam helmet, and I was off. The pink streamers that I had put on the bike sailed out in the wind as I pedaled madly along the course. Now THIS was fun! I began catching up to other women, much to my surprise, and despite managing to knock the chain off the ring twice due to not knowing how to change the gears, by the end I had passed most of the ladies. Into transition I went, hung up the bike, took off the helmet and carefully (as documented by my husband’s video camera) placed my helmet in my basin of water. Running shoes on, I was now in my element, and raced after the remaining women in front of me. By the turnaround, I had caught all but one of them, but with only 1.6km to go, there was no catching the leader. I finished in 2nd, and was so excited that I had managed to “swim” the whole 400m and finish the race. As I went past the finish line, with my 4 sons cheering for me, I thought about the one who wasn’t there, and how I needed to keep working on not making this define my life.
It wasn’t an easy path for me, and I struggled through the swim in many give-it-a tri’s before my son Scott told me “Mom, you need swimming lessons”. He was right, but I procrastinated for 4 months through the winter before I ventured out to the pool where I’d signed up for Learn to Swim. On the first night of lessons, I sat in my office chair in a panic, not wanting to go, but, my family pushed me out the door and on my way. It was one of the best decisions that I have made, and it was the beginning of my new relationship with swimming. I wore my chain with the baby angel on it for good luck, and in a pool where I could touch the bottom, I learned how to do the front crawl. Not well, but it was a beginning. I followed this with stroke improvement classes for a few years, but continued to feel panic in the races when there were people close to me, or when I was the least bit out of breath. Finally, in 2014, I joined a masters swim group, and started actually improving my swimming, and finally in 2016, after a small panic incident at an early race in the US, managed to get through every race without feeling that heart-thumping, breath-stealing panic, and actually had a few mid-pack swim times, rather than “somewhere at the back”. So, finally, 11 years after taking on this new sport, I now actually enjoy swimming, and look forward to the races. Last summer, I qualified for the 70.3 Ironman world championships, and the swim didn’t bother me at all, in fact, I felt great. I know how to change gears on my bike now, and can go pretty fast, and my old true love, running, which I’ve been at for 50 years now, continues to bring me home feeling good. My husband and all of my sons participate to some extent in triathlon, and I love that this is something I can do with my family. Still, every day, I think of the one who isn’t there, but I have made a truce with the water, and I think he would have been proud of his Mom.
— Jennifer Knowles
My first triathlon race was a Kids of Steel event in Cobourg when I was 12. I knew very little about the sport, but was immediately hooked. My parents support was key leading me into the sport. As athletes themselves, they shared valuable life and athletic lessons. I slowly made the transition to the sport participating in Triathlon Ontario summer camps in Collingwood and competing on the Kids of Steel provincial circuit.
I started training at the elite level when I began my studies at the University of Guelph. I’ve been in a full-time triathlon program at TCPC Guelph under coach Craig Taylor with a unique and extremely supportive group of athletes over the last six years. We’ve collectively built a culture and I’m proud to be a part of it.
I’ve proudly competed for Canada at major events around the globe including World Championships, World Triathlon Series races and World Cups. This season presented a lot of first time experiences for me, including being named to the Development team, going through the Olympic qualification process, World Relay Championships and WTS Elite Grand Final. The goal over the past four years was to develop fundamental skills as a triathlete and learn to execute in a process-driven manner. It was an honour to be granted opportunities to represent my country in various WTS and world championship events all over the world.
Over the next four years the goal is to continue to grow my capacity to learn and develop into the best version of myself. I will work closely with my coach Craig Taylor and my teammates to improve my process of competing at the World Cup and World Triathlon Series (WTS) level. There will be opportunities to represent Canada on a home stage at the Edmonton and Montreal WTS events in 2017. I would love to compete and represent Triathlon Canada at these events. I’d also like to be in the quest for the qualification process for future elite World Championships, the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 2019 Pan American Games and 2020 Olympics. Canada’s depth on both the women’s and men’s side will make it competitive and hopefully I can contribute to Canada’s success.
— Dominika Jamnicky