November 6, 2012
Canadian triathlete Andrew Yorke refuses to quit
By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
Just prior to the start of the 2012 World Triathlon Grand Final in Auckland, New Zealand, on Oct.21, a steel barricade was accidently pushed over Andrew Yorke’s foot.
The Canadian triathlete’s racing shoe was ripped open and he suffered severe cuts to two toes.
“Most guys would have just quit,” said Yorke’s coach Barrie Shepley. “But Andrew’s never-give-up attitude helped get him to the race start and then he put in one of the strongest world championships a rookie (on the senior circuit) has ever had for Canada.”
Despite the constant bleeding and pain, Yorke, finished an impressive 18th while teammate Kyle Jones of Victoria was sixth. Yorke is 23 and Jones 27. Both should be on the national team for years to come, which is good news given that the career of Canadian triathlon legend Simon Whitfield, 37, is winding down.
Shepley, who coached Jones when the Hamilton native started out years ago and was the national team head coach when Whitfield won gold at the 2000 Olympics, is Yorke’s personal coach. He was incredibly impressed by both their performances in Auckland.
“That was the toughest (course) we have likely ever had in the sport’s Olympic distance history,” Shepley said from New Zealand, via email. “The Kiwis know how to make it harsh. (From) the cool waters in Auckland Harbour (and) the single toughest bike course we have ever raced on (24 hills). About one-third of the field could not make it to the finish of the bike (event). It was 13C air temperature and raining so hard you couldn’t see three bikes ahead of you.”
The fact that Yorke finished in the top 18 against the world’s best as one of the youngest competitors in the field, and with a massively bleeding foot, was impressive, but not particularly surprising. Though the Caledon East, Ont., native is still waiting for a top-three finish on the elite world scene, beating the odds and rising to the occasion in major races is nothing new. In fact, it’s common practice for the young triathlete who trains out of Hamilton’s McMaster University. Who knows where Yorke would be ranked internationally if not for the constant injuries he’s suffered? His foot injury in Auckland was just the latest in a series of injuries that have hampered the good-natured athlete throughout his career, starting with the 2007 world junior championships in Hamburg, Germany, when he was hit by a car while riding the wrong way on a one-way street. Yorke suffered severe bruising and a hematoma on his thigh (which still gives him trouble) and bruised ribs, but finished the event.
“The guy was freaking out,” said Yorke with a laugh. “I obliterated his car.”
At the 2011 under-23 world championships in Beijing, he had a stomach flu, and had to stop numerous times during the event, but again managed to finish the race. Also in 2011, he suffered three stress fractures in his legs (two in the left, one in the right) and a case of the shingles. But the worse injury of all, which caused the greatest setback to say the least, occurred at the 2008 nationals in Kelowna.
“Five days before the championships he started feeling ill, but thought it was just a small bug,” said Shepley.
The night before the race, he couldn’t even stand. Nonetheless he got up the next morning and raced. When the race ended he was in bad shape, and flew from Kelowna back to Toronto. His parents took him to the hospital, and within hours they were doing surgery.
A virus got into his spine and another 12-16 hours later he would have either been dead or paralyzed. He spent the entire fall on intravenous. They took a piece of his spine out in the surgery and said he would be lucky to be able to jog.
Yorke still has a seven-inch scar down his back and, to this day, his back still gives him trouble. But he has carried on.
“I really struggled mentally probably for two-three years after the surgery,” said Yorke on Tuesday, following a morning run. “So, yeah, you could say I’ve had many things happen to me.”
The injuries have held him back, but have made Yorke more determined than ever to reach the top heights of world triathlon. Though he’s ranked 58th in the world (mainly the result of missing races due to injury), Yorke is hopeful to crack the top 20 in overall rankings in 2013 and perhaps win a couple of World Cup races. His other major goals are to medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and, of course, make the 2016 Rio Olympic team (he was an alternate for London this year).
However, his big dream is to win the 2015 Pan American Games close to home in Toronto.
Like all elite triathletes, Yorke trains an incredible amount: Roughly 35 hours a week, about 200 kilometres on the bike, 30-50K in the water and 110-140K running. A relative late-comer to the sport, Yorke is a naturally gifted cyclist, but has had to work hard on his swimming, though he’s improved leaps and bounds in the water.
But probably his greatest asset is his sheer toughness. Not only has he finished gruelling triathlons despite dealing with injury and illness, he loves it when the courses are brutal. Basically, he’s a hard man in an extremely hard sport. Tough as petrified nails.
“I’ve always been a pretty good cyclist and seem to do well when the courses are really tough and it’s not a course where you can hide,” he said. “I do well when it’s cold, or extremely hot or very hilly — when it turns into a (contest of) survival. When it gets hard, I hit it back a bit harder.”
Yorke has hit back his entire career. One can only imagine what he may accomplish going forward if he can avoid serious injury. He certainly deserves a break (so to speak).
“A lot of athletes get better, but I can’t think of anyone I race against who’s missed any more time than I have,” said Yorke. “Injuries have been the biggest issue, but even with all of that, I’m still getting faster and there’s no reason to think why I can’t get better and come back stronger every year.”