Triathlete Paula Findlay back on top and looking forward to more in 2021
The Canadian Olympian and professional triathlete won big at the PTO 2020 Championship in Florida
Canadian triathlete Paula Findlay is back on top of her game following a huge win at the Professional Triathletes Organisation 2020 Championship in Daytona Beach, Fla. It’s a testament to her strength and tenacity as a competitor who has had her ups and downs but has always stayed true to who she is as an athlete.
The race, which was held on Dec. 6, was the only world-class race in a season that was pretty much cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the field was an impressive one including the top 40 male and female athletes according to world rankings in addition to 20 wild card entries. The $1.2 million purse added to the excitement the competition created.
“Daytona was one of the only big international races to happen this year. It was the Professional Triathletes Organization, or “PTO” Championship, with a 1.2 million dollar prize purse and an excellent broadcast team,” Findlay says. “So it brought together the best athletes in the world.”
Findlay toed the line hoping for a top-five finish, and she not only met that goal but blew passed it just like she did her competitors on the way to an impressive victory, pocketing the $100,000 prize in the process.
“I was completely blown away, not only to win, but the way that I raced. I came off the bike with a four-minute lead to the next group of women, and never really looked back,” she says. “Winning by that margin was way beyond my expectations.”
Findlay prepares for the PTO 2020 Championship in Daytona, Fla (photo: @tzaferes)
Findlay got into athletics in high school as a runner before her coach got her on a bike and into her first triathlon. That was 2006. The same year, she qualified for her first Junior World Championships team.
As a 21-year old, she was the talk of the international triathlon scene when she won 5 ITU World Championship Series races in a row. But for those outside the sport, she is best known for representing her country at the 2012 Olympic Games. At the Games, in London, nagging injuries leading up to the event prevented her from reaching her potential and she finished in last place. Others might have shrunk from the defeat, and although the sting took a while to heal, Findlay was not one to shrink from anything.
“I’m pretty good at putting blinders on and forging ahead when things are hard, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. I think emotionally and physically it took me a long time to move past my disappointment at the Games and the aftermath of that experience,” she says. “However I never wanted to quit the sport, I continued to train as if nothing had happened. In retrospect I definitely should’ve taken a good break and got myself healthy right after the Olympics.”
What she did learn was to pay attention to what her body is saying.
“I learned many things, but most importantly to be kind to myself, listen to my body and if something is hurting, let it rest,” she says.
Findlay, now 31, continued her career as a professional athlete moving to long course triathlon in 2017 while living and training in both Oregon and Canmore, Alberta with her partner Eric Lagerstrom, also a pro triathlete, and her new dog Flynn, a very cute German Wirehaired Pointer.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a major change in her training and how she approached her sport.
“I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life with very concrete goals all season, and have always felt rushed to get fit in time for the next race,” she explains. “This often caused me to over-train and not recover properly, which led to injuries or sickness. Taking all the race pressure away this year was a huge blessing in disguise — I trained consistently all year, didn’t get injured once, and really enjoyed every single workout and session that I did.”
According to Findlay, training has been relaxed and at a lower volume, which she says has really enabled her to get healthy and feel good about her sport for the first time in quite a while.
“I think I’m in a different phase of my career, but I wouldn’t necessarily say the best is yet to come since my performances in 2011 were pretty cool. I’m an older, more experienced and more mature athlete now, and switching to long course racing provided a clean slate and a new challenge for me to tackle.” she says. “My performance in Daytona was the best race I’ve had since 2011, so I’m excited about where that momentum will take me next season.”
She says she is looking for a similar formula moving forward that focuses less on a high volume of races and more on quality and maintaining health.
“I showed myself this year that I do better with less racing, less stress and less pressure, so I’m going to try to keep that rolling into 2021, although I know it will be difficult,” she says. “I’d like to target two or three major events (70.3 World Championships, PTO Championships), and go for quality not quantity when it comes to my race schedule. I think that’s the best approach for me to stay healthy and be consistent with training.”
One thing about next season is that it is an Olympic year, but it is unlikely Findlay will get the opportunity to compete, even though she might be considered one of the favourites given her performance. She says, training and qualifying for the Olympics is a three-to-four year commitment focussing on ITU short-courses.
“If I wanted to go down that road, I would have had to start collecting ITU points and moving up to the ranks back in 2018. After years of leaving my fate in the hands of Triathlon Canada, I decided to switch to long course racing to take more control over my own career,” she says. “I’m enjoying it so much, and while a small part of me is wishing I could compete at the Olympics (since I know I’m fit enough), I’m at peace with my decision to race long distance and I’m finding success with it.”
With a new outlook and some top-level success under her belt, the new year is already looking brighter for Findlay. She’s happy in her own skin doing what she loves and she wouldn’t have it any other way. And she loves to share her triathlon life with the public through social media where she shares amazing photography and a glimpse into the life of a professional athlete. And many pics of her dog Flynn, of course.
“I truly love the training, having a goal and working towards it every day, and ultimately winning races! Of course there are plenty of days where I don’t love it and don’t want to get out the door to train, but in general it gives me a lot of joy, especially doing this with Eric,” she says. “We are really lucky to be able to do this together and without him I probably would have retired by now!”