With her racing schedule all set to begin on Sunday, May 8 in Monterrey, Mexico for the first triathlon World Cup event of her career, Carp’s Joanna Brown is hoping that the road less traveled leads to only one thing this season – the title of world junior champion.
Tremendous athletic ability already separates Brown from just about all of her peers, but the direction the 18-year-old has chosen – to dedicate every part of her life towards being the best swimmer, cyclist and runner possible – even differs from the vast majority of top athletes her age.
Brown turned down scholarship offers to several top NCAA running schools and took an extra year to complete Grade 12 at All Saints Catholic High School so she could spend more time training.
“For an 18-year-old, it’s kind of a scary situation,” explains Greg Kealey, Brown’s coach with the Bytown Storm triathlon club. “You’re not going to university or following the path that 99 per cent of people you know follow, or probably the path your parents just assumed you were going to do from the time you were one or two.
“To make those choices is not easy. She’s one of the few that’s not scared to say, ‘This is what I want.’”
Kealey identifies that bold trait as one of the major reasons Brown’s been so successful, highlighted by her bronze medal performance at last fall’s world junior championships in Hungary. Brown does plan to study at either Ottawa or Guelph universities this fall, although it likely won’t be in her preferred sciences programs because she’d have to miss too many labs for triathlon competitions.
The way Brown sees it, she can pursue school any time, but the chance to become world junior champion – and an Olympian further down the road – can only happen right now.
“I’m going for gold this year,” states Brown, who will be the only competitor in the Sept. 7-11 event in Beijing to already own a world junior medal since last year’s gold and silver medallists are now above the eligible age. “It’s going to be mine. That race is the one I’m looking forward to most.”
Since completing her final exams in January, Brown’s been fully devoted to her sport.The usual daily schedule includes a 6 a.m. swim with the Ravens of Carleton club, a cycle with the a Kunstadt Sports riding group, and a run with Kealey biking at her side to make sure that she’s hitting speed targets.
“It’s hard sometimes,” Brown says. “It’s my main focus, so your mood and how you’re feeling during the day kind of rides with how your training is going.”
It wasn’t always the case in the past, but Brown’s now learned not to think about triathlon once her workouts are done for the day. It’s important to go home to relax, spend time with her family, watch TV and wind down to avoid burning out, she notes.
“Because we’re doing so much training, you’re really on the brink of overtraining most of the time,” Brown adds. “You’re always pushing, but there’s always that edge where you’ll get knocked down if you go over it, but if you stay right on the edge, you’ll have great results.”
After stepping on a rock and dislocating the cuboid bone in her foot, Brown had to take some time off from running recently. But in general, Brown’s responded well to increased volume, mileage and intensity in her training sessions as she transitions towards the full 1.5-kilometre swim, 40 km bike and 10 km run she’ll face all the time next year when she graduates from the junior circuit (where races are only half that distance).
“She handles it really well,” Kealey notes. “Sometimes you have to kind of pull back the reigns more than anything.”
Brown feels good about her fitness heading into the first competition of the season, but has no idea where that’ll put her since it’s been so long since she’s raced, and it’ll be the first time she takes on the world’s very best senior-level triathletes at the World Cup.
“I’m so excited, and also a little scared for this race,” says the former Huntley Centennial student who recently returned to her old school to encourage youngsters to take part in the Diefenbooker Classic race held in Carp on Saturday, April 30. “It’s my first Olympic distance, I’ve never been in a World Cup race before, it’s in Mexico, it’s going to be hot, so I have to worry about nutrition and hydrating – it’s going to be a lot to handle, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun too.”
Brown would like finish as the top Canadian female in Mexico – a tough task up against 2008 Olympic veteran and World Cup medallist Kathy Tremblay, as well as Kyla Coates – but she promises to remain positive regardless of the result and treat it as a learning opportunity to help towards the big goal at the end of the season.
“She’s capable of a gold at worlds this year,” adds Kealey, who will coach Brown and the other Canadian athletes at the Monterrey World Cup. “If all goes well, she’ll be able to express her consistency and her strength throughout the year, which is really what we’re after.”