Triathletes work hard for little money

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:13 PM ET

It's like being a rodeo cowboy, only you're the horse, too.

The body takes a beating. The travel is long and lonely. There's no fame or glory, at least not in North America. And the money...

What money?

"Overall, I love it or I wouldn't be doing it, but there are definitely some tough days,'' said St. Albert's Carolyn Murray, competing in today's BG World Cup Triathlon at Hawrelak Park. "There are definitely ups and downs. I do wonder sometimes what other athletes go through, whether they struggle as much as I do. I'm sure they do.''

They do. Between injuries and fatigue, mental and physical exhaustion from juggling training, work and family, or just struggling to make ends meet, a triathlete's life is an uphill race.

"It is very taxing,'' admits U.S. champion Hunter Kemper, who'll compete in about 16 events a year, most of them overseas. "It's hard to balance. I try to bring my wife with me as often as I can.''

It's not a luxury afforded many competitors in a sport that's still looking to break out in North America. Only four of the circuit's 15 races take place on this continent (Edmonton, Newfoundland and two stops in Mexico).

Today at Hawrelak, winners in the men's and women's elite divisions take home $12,500 US. That's a good pull for a weekend, but the shallow end of the prize pool comes at them in a hurry: down to $3,000 for sixth and $250 for 15th.

Sixteenth and lower get handshakes and free water.

MANY LEAVE EMPTY-HANDED

With some 60 men and 50 women in the fields, a lot of tired, sweaty people are flying home empty-handed.

That's why most still have real jobs, like Edmonton's Paul Tichelaar, the 2006 Pan-American champion, who doubles as an engineer when he's not trying to master the three disciplines of triathlon - swimming, biking and running.

"A lot of it has just been following the routine,'' he shrugged. "I spent five years being busy all the time, trying to fit my training in around my school schedule, or more like trying to fit my school schedule around my training. It's a little bit like that now (with work). And it helps with financial security.''

Kemper is one of the lucky ones who are able to make a comfortable living as a full-time triathlete. But he admits that kind of kind of security is probably limited to the top 10 or 20 in the world.

"It does fall off after that,'' he said. "There is a living to be made, but maybe not all athletes are doing as well as I am. Hopefully it'll go deeper (than top 10 or 20), but right now I think it is only that much.

"We're all chasing the dream of being full time, this is all we do.''

He's one of the few who's managed to reach it.

"I think I'm really now secure in being a professional athlete. This is my job and this is what I do and I don't really have any worries monetarily. I can really just focus on being the best athlete I can be. But there were a lot of struggles. I've kind of paid my dues and worked my way up.''

Like Murray is doing.

"Every country is different in the amount of financial support they give,'' she said. "It's improving in Canada. They're trying to support us as much as they can and that helps.''

NOT IN IT FOR THE MONEY

But these athletes aren't in it for the money. Murray, who broke her collarbone when hit by a car while training for the last Olympics, realized it most when she was injured.

"It was definitely a setback, but it also gave me a chance to step back and decide if this is what I want to do. It is. I appreciate it even more now.''


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