Camping, resting and resetting: Joanna Brown pumping the breaks during the pandemic

Joanna Brown and her borrowed RV, parked somewhere near Bend, Oregon. Photo provided

By Kieran Heffernan

Triathlete Joanna Brown is using the pandemic as an opportunity to do something she hasn’t done in a very long time: relax.

When COVID-19 first started becoming a world-wide crisis, Brown was in Australia, taking advantage of the heat and open water swimming in preparation for the Olympics. She’d been living in the United Kingdom before then and was forced to leave behind her apartment and car in order to come back to Canada. After quarantining for two weeks in Ottawa in her parents’ basement, she realized she wasn’t going to be racing again anytime soon.

“As things got more and more postponed and events kept getting canceled, I decided to leave and be with my best friend. So I flew to Seattle, and I now live in an RV. So we kind of decided to take on this huge adventure,” she said.

The pair parked the RV – borrowed from another friend – in the national forest near Bend, Oregon. Since then they’ve camped, explored and traveled the coast.

Of course, the postponement of the Olympics has still been disappointing.

“Triathlon and the Olympics have been my complete focus for the last 10 years, and it’s hard. There’s so much focus that goes into performance and you really don’t do anything that takes away from that,” she said.

Brown had been looking forward to the Olympics, but also a break afterwards to “shift (her) focus” to other priorities, like returning to school and more generally, “to reset.”

Instead, the delay of the Games gave Brown no choice but to take a break early.

Her intense training in Australia combined with the stress of getting back to Canada left Brown exhausted, so she spent months doing the unusual – not much of anything at all.

She only began working out again weeks ago.

“We just kind of swim when we can and we don’t stress about it too much, and it’s very relaxing,” she said. “It’s a very different way of training that I have, where we kind of just wake up and I talk to my coach and figure out a schedule, but there’s no pressure.”

Brown’s become versed with the trails around Bend, which she runs and bikes, while swimming in nearby outdoor pools and lakes.

It’s a big change from the calculated workouts she’s used to, and her aim right now is just to keep up a base level of fitness.

“So much of our lives are built around these schedules where you have six weeks until an event or eight weeks until an event and it’s very regimented,” she said.

Currently, Brown is the number 1 triathlete in Canada. She was in position to meet Triathlon Canada’s qualification criteria for the Olympics, but the second half of events she needed to perform in have all been postponed. It’s still uncertain when she’ll be able to race again.

Her career really started trending upwards in 2017, after overcoming two years of injuries. Around that time, she was able to start training consistently and in 2018 she had one of the best finishes of her career, coming in 3rd at the Commonwealth Games, despite being just weeks removed from breaking her shoulder. The next year she had her first podium finish in the World Triathlon Series, finishing 3rd at a race in Bermuda.

At the moment, Brown’s main goal at the moment is sustainability, because no one knows how long it will be before she’ll race again.

Whenever races begin again, Brown expects to have plenty of notice to prepare.

This time her approach is going to be different, she said. It’s going to be enjoyable. “Now more than ever, I’m just so excited to get out the door every time I go train

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