Triathlon Is a People Sport

Competitive professor says the best part is meeting other athletes

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Deborah Powell

Psychologist Deborah Powell at the Welland Half Iron Triathlon June 27.

Psychology professor Deborah Powell is a people person. In the classroom, she teaches and researches things such as how to match jobs and personality types. Outside of work, people are also the driving force behind her chosen pastime: competing in triathlons.

“My favorite part is socializing with all of the people I’ve met through training,” she says. “When you are out running or riding for hours at a time, you can really get to know people. I also love the amazing feeling of accomplishment after finishing a tough event.”

Powell should be feeling pretty darn good these days, given that she just competed in a triathlon with dozens of other people AND took home the women’s title.

On June 27 she won the inaugural Welland Half Iron Triathlon with a time of 4:47:18. Earlier this year, she placed third in Toronto’s women-only half-marathon and competed in the Boston Marathon. “There, I placed 4,507th. It’s a big race!”

She also takes part in an annual five-kilometre run held as part of the conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She’s won the women’s division of the race four times in a row.

Powell started running triathlons in 2000. “I was in the airport one spring looking for a magazine to read on the plane, and there was a magazine with the headline ‘10 weeks to an Olympic distance triathlon.’ I thought it sounded like something that would be fun to try, so I bought the magazine, started following the program when I got back from my trip, and did my first sprint triathlon about 10 weeks later.”

Shortly after, Powell started graduate school at the University of Western Ontario and discovered its triathlon club. “That’s when I started learning more about the sport and meeting other people to train with,” she says.

She joined U of G in 2008 and now juggles teaching and research with training and competing. “It’s a little easier in the summer to fit everything in; my schedule is more flexible and the days are longer, so I can ride later in the evenings.”

Powell trains 10 to 15 hours a week in the summer and tries to do each event ─ swimming, biking, running ─ three times a week. “In the fall and winter it gets a bit trickier.” She cuts back on the number of hours she devotes to her sport and moves many of her workouts indoors.

Running is her favourite triathlon sport. “It’s the one I’ve been doing the longest,” she says, adding she did both track and field and cross-country in high school. “I had never done competitive cycling or swimming.”

But running can also be the most painful, “especially if you’ve pushed too hard on the bike, and I’ve definitely done that a few times.”

Powell attended Queen’s University with the goal of becoming a sports psychologist, but changed her mind after taking a course in industrial/organizational psychology. After completing her PhD, she taught for a year at St. Mary’s University in Halifax before coming to Guelph.

She plans to compete in three triathlons this summer.