Dorelle and Alexander Hinton were still youngsters in Kingston, Ont., when they started chasing down their dad. Tagging along at first to his triathlon races, they began competing in kids’ versions of those grownup meets, then graduated to longer and longer distances.
Now, as U of G students and members of the Guelph Regional Triathlon Centre (RTC), the siblings are leaving behind not just Dad but many of their peers at national and international competitions.
They’re among a dozen athletes – all U of G students or recent grads – who belong to the six-year-old program in Guelph. It’s not a varsity squad – no Canadian university offers varsity triathlon – but several members have competed for Gryphon swimming and cross-country teams in provincial and national meets.
The program began in 2006 as a provincial centre after former Gryphon swimming coach Alan Fairweather applied to host it. Under new funding from Triathlon Canada three years ago, it became a regional centre. The program also receives support from Triathlon Ontario and the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario.
Other regional and national centres run by Triathlon Canada are located in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, as well as the National Triathlon Centre in Victoria.
RTC coach Craig Taylor has run the program since it began. A former triathlete himself, he completed a master’s in exercise physiology at the University of Toronto and a coaching internship in Victoria.
Taylor says his triathletes adhere to a training and competition schedule that easily rivals those of many varsity teams. Many of his athletes spend more than 20 hours a week in training. In peak periods, they come closer to 30 hours – swimming six or eight times in the U of G pool, cycling up to five times and running seven times.
Several members have won national and international titles, and are prospects for Canada’s 2016 Olympic team and world championships, he says. Athletes compete over Olympic distances: 1,500 metres for swimming, 40 kilometres cycling and 10 kilometres running.
“It’s the only job I know of where everyone you work with wants to be world-class, they want to be the best,” says Taylor.
This past fall, RTC athlete Jason Wilson finished seventh at the World Under 23 Championships in New Zealand. “Coming in seventh at the world championships is huge. It means a lot to me,” says Wilson, now in his third year of environmental engineering at U of G.
He enters eight to 10 major races a year worldwide. The 21-year-old hopes to become the first Barbadian triathlete at the 2016 Rio Olympics. At a meet in Madrid this past spring, he just missed qualifying for the London Games. “I was pretty upset when I missed it, I was very disappointed.
“I grew up in Barbados, I feel like I want to compete for them. They’ve never had anyone in triathlon before. I’d love to be the first one, it would be huge.”
Wilson began postsecondary studies at Dalhousie University but transferred to Guelph for its triathlon centre. “Guelph is amazing. It’s just great company.” He ran with the Gryphon cross-country team in fall 2012.
His sister, Kyleigh, is studying hotel management at Guelph. Although not an RTC member, she swam backstroke on the Barbadian national team. Their dad, Derek, is originally from Canada; he also runs triathlons. Jason figures he was about 15 when he started beating Dad at races.
Today, Jason says consistency is the key, including all those training hours. “You have to love getting up early in the morning, feeling tired all day and being miserable a lot of the time. Some days, I don’t know how Craig deals with us.”
Team veteran Dorelle Hinton joined RTC in 2007 after arriving at U of G to study human kinetics. She graduated last June and plans to begin grad studies this fall in biomechanics. Besides staffing the front desk at the athletics centre, she works there as a trainer.
Hinton finished fifth at the 2009 Canada Games. In 2012, she was eighteenth at the world university championships in Taiwan. A former competitive swimmer in Kingston, she swam with the Guelph Marlins Aquatic Club for four years.
She says juggling studies and workouts three times a day has helped her develop time-management skills. “There are a lot of lessons you can learn from sport,” including the lesson that “not everything is going to go the way you want it to.”
Teammate Joanna Brown from Carp, Ont., is in her second year of marketing management at Guelph. She won bronze at the New Zealand World Under 23 Championship.
As a Gryphon cross-country runner, Brown was named a Second All-Canadian this past fall for Canadian Interuniversity Sport. Now aiming for Rio de Janeiro in 2016, she says, “Reaching the Olympics would be my No. 1 goal.”
She began training in her teens with the Bytown Storm triathlon team. “I love training. The people I train with are amazing athletes.”
During peak season, Brown spends up to 30 hours a week in workouts, including swimming nine times, running 80 kilometres near campus and cycling about 400 kilometres, including treks to Hamilton or Waterloo.
On one recent “slack” day, Brown had spent more than an hour in the pool already and planned an evening run of 90 minutes. Taking three courses this semester, she says she’s picking up marketing tips that may ultimately help in landing triathlon sponsors.
Her worst outing this year was a World Cup race in Edmonton. After a decent swim, she had reached the lead pack on her bike but felt her legs go leaden during the run. “I wasn’t moving, but Craig had drilled into us that you keep going.”
Brown shares her own lessons with school kids as an ambassador for a program encouraging females in sport. Perhaps one of those youngsters will become an RTC prospect one day.
Coach Taylor hopes to keep sending athletes to national and world competition. Referring to Triathlon Canada’s high-performance program, he says, “Our goal is to keep populating that developmental and national team.”
Besides competition, he’s got another goal in mind for all of his student athletes. “I say the No. 1 priority is school, No. 2 is training. As talented as they are, it takes time to develop as an athlete – and they will need a job sometime and a degree to do it,” he says. “I want these kids to have as many avenues open as they can.”
Photos and videos courtesy Guelph Regional Triathlon Centre. For more information, visit http://rtcguelph.blogspot.ca/.