Rough year for Ottawa triathlete plagued by injuries and self-doubt

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Joanna Brown. Photo: Delly Carr/ITU.

By Jake Romphf

An off year for Canada’s top female triathlete was branded by injuries and hardships but hasn’t affected her competitive spirits as she looks ahead to next year and the 2020 Olympics.

Joanna Brown is ranked 18th in the world following the final event of the 2018 World Triathlon Series (WTS), which was held on Sept. 15. She fell 11 spots from her season-ending 7th ranking last year.

“It was a really, really, really difficult year,” the 25-year-old Carp native said.

Brown fractured her wrist during training just before the season began. The injury set a bleak tone for the rest of her season.

Brown’s bad luck continued when she wasn’t able to finish the first race of this year’s series in Abu Dhabi. Wet conditions in the United Arab Emirates’ capital, which is typically notoriously dry, caused about half of the racers to crash during the bike portion of the race, Brown said. She was among the unfortunate, falling coming out of a tunnel on the Abu Dhabi track that’s normally used for Formula 1 races.

“All of a sudden, I have no idea how, I was just on the ground.”

Brown fractured part of her upper arm in the fall. The race was barely a month before the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.

Brown said she stubbornly kept training in spite of her injuries by swimming with her wrist cast on and with one arm after the fracture.

While recovering, Brown was also dealing with a worsening relationship with her coach, which she said was due to a problem she had with how he was treating some of her teammates.

Nevertheless, Brown pulled out a podium finish at the Commonwealth Games, winning the bronze medal in the women’s triathlon.

“I don’t know how I came away with a medal, but it was definitely my highlight of the year,” Brown said.

She also placed 4th as part of Canada’s mixed relay team at the Games in a race held the day after her bronze medal finish. The team was seven seconds shy of 3rd place.

Brown started training with a new coach after the Commonwealth Games, who she said changed her training style and volume.

“It was such a refreshing change and one that I needed,” she said.

But unfortunately, her luck would not turn around for the rest of the season and her momentum was halted, preventing her from establishing any consistency.

Brown got stuck behind bike crashes in multiple series races. In the bike portion of the WTS final she punctured her front tire 25 kilometres into the race.

Her running time was 9th best in the race, but it didn’t matter because of how far she had fallen behind on the bike. She finished the race in 18th, matching her season-ending ranking.

“I was pretty frustrated and pretty heartbroken,” Brown recalled.

She said her season of obstacles was a learning experience.

“Mentally I was still really determined and I tried to stay positive and just keep moving forward,” she said. “Nothing is ever guaranteed in sport and you have to fight for every position.”

Brown had four 1st place and 11 Top 5 finishes in 2017, compared to no 1st place and three Top 5 finishes in 2018.

Brown said she’s had to fight off some self doubt about her strong 2017 season being a fluke – but mental toughness, trusting her training and a good finish (4th place) at the second last season race in Montreal erased those doubts.

“I love competing close to home,” she said. “There’s always just an extra element of feeling comfortable and happy.”

Brown is currently without a permanent home because she’s constantly traveling for competitions. But, the self-proclaimed “professional nomad” said representing Canada at the 2020 Summer Olympics has been on her mind all year.

“It’s what I think about every day and the reason I get up and I train,” she said. “I’m going to do everything I can to get there ¬– just being a part of team Canada and knowing that I’ve qualified and worked so hard to get there would feel amazing.”

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