By Michael Sun
She called it a “magical moment”.
For 24-year-old triathlete Joanna Brown it was the 2015 Pan American Games that motivated her comeback from injuries and made her fall in love with the sport again.
The Carp, Ont. native participated as a domestique (a racer serving the team, rather than for their own victory) in the downtown Toronto race with her family watching.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sound of people cheering as I ran through the grandstand,” she said. “It was pretty magical and I just really wanted to keep chasing that.”
This year, she got back on the path to victory. At June’s Ottawa International Triathlon she captured her first senior national title. Brown said she put more pressure on herself than usual at that race.
“I also really did enjoyed racing at home in Ottawa,” she said. “I really did want to do well. I had lot of friends and family cheering me on.”
This year she capped off the most successful season she’s had yet with a 5th place finish at the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Rotterdam, Netherlands on Sept. 16.
Other highlights of Brown’s career-best season were a 7th place World Triathlon Series finish in Edmonton and 4th place finishes in the circuit’s races in Montreal and Stockholm, Sweden.
To Brown, it was her Grand Final result that she was most proud of this season. “I was really proud of the way that I executed that race and worked really well with my teammate (American Kirsten Kasper),” she commented.
After her strong 2017 campaign, she’s ranked as 7th best in the world. She looked to be on an unstoppable path to such a position before almost two years of injuries plagued the triathlete from the end of 2013 until 2015.
She’s been accumulating accolades almost since she picked up the sport of triathlon at the age of 14 at Ottawa’s Bytown Storm Triathlon Club.
Just a year after she started she won the Valleyfield Eastern Canadian Championships. In 2010, she took bronze at the International Triathlon Union World Junior Championship Grand Final. In 2011, she joined the national team and in 2012 she medaled in four Pan American Cup races (taking 1st place in one) as well as finishing 3rd the International Triathlon Union World Under-23 Championships.
Just over a year later, the injuries struck. Brown dealt with plantar fasciitis on both her feet, which she said was the cause of over-training. She also fractured the radial head in her elbow 7 weeks before the 2015 Pan American Games.
“It really seemed like I couldn’t catch a break and I kept getting injured,” she noted.
“Definitely the first thought that kind of goes through your mind when you get injured or something start hurting is frustration and you really have to take a step back and be patient and know it’s a long term sport.”
Brown said she considered leaving the sport and called the injuries a mental battle.
“In the very beginning, after a few injuries, I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep doing triathlon because I was kind of burned out and pretty sick of being injured,” she said.
The injuries were a learning experience, according to her.
“Having a really supportive group around me and having training partners that have been encouraging, and just really knowing my body a lot of better, and growing up, and being a bit more mature, it all helps,” added the athlete now based in Victoria, B.C.
Brown said this season exceeded her expectations because she stayed healthy and consistent.
“I was just so happy with the way that everything progressed this year, how I was able to build on the momentum from the beginning of the year,” she added.
She said its swimming that’s been her biggest improvement.
“Especially in the ITU [World Triathlon Series] that’s so important just to have a good swim because it sets up your entire race so that’s something I’ve worked on for a number of years.”
Brown said every race is memorable, good or bad. However, making the Olympics are her ultimate goal.
“It’s a dream realized and it’s the pinnacle of our sport, competing at the Olympics,” she said of the possibility. “I think I would be really proud of everything I put in to qualify and I would try to enjoy every minute I get to be there.”
If she qualifies for the Olympics, it could be her most magical moment of all.