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Success was swift for Canadian Paula Findlay. By the age of 22, she earned five ITU World Championship Series wins, a No. 1 world ranking and a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. But despite being a favorite to medal in London, Findlay struggled with injury throughout her build to the Games and ultimately fell short of her dream, crossing the line in last place. Injuries continued to plague Findlay through summer 2014; then, in a last ditch effort to get back on track, she moved to Boulder, Colo., to work with coach Siri Lindley. The choice was a good one. Findlay, now 25, scored a trio of second-place finishes in late 2014 (the Cartagena ITU World Cup, Life Time Tri Oceanside and the Noosa Triathlon), proving she is an undisputed podium contender. More importantly, in the words often uttered by her coach, Findlay is “loving it” again— she largely credits Lindley with reigniting her passion for the sport and her athletic confidence. Findlay aims to again represent Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but her initial goal is to put together a consistent, injury-free 2015 season.
I was ready to quit triathlon because of the constant injuries I had. I didn’t love it anymore. It was a huge mental struggle to get out every day and train. Instead, I decided to look one more time for a coach. I contacted Siri, and I could tell right away that she was the right choice. Often it’s hard for an athlete to put all their trust in a new coach, but because I was at such a low I was willing to put all my eggs in one basket. Since then I’ve not swayed at all from what she says. Her super enthusiastic, positive energy was really what I needed to re-instill my love for triathlon. She shows up every day at the pool and is so excited to be there, and that makes me excited. I’m laughing pushing off the wall for all-out 200s. It’s a totally different approach than I used to have toward training.
The last few years, I didn’t think I could win a big race again. I doubted all sorts of things. But I’m back to the point where I believe I can win. I believe I can qualify for the Olympics—maybe more than just Rio. I’ve become a different athlete. I’m stronger in a lot of different ways. I’m smarter and I know my body better. I kind of walked onto the stage and had success pretty young without any experience, and I did it because I was talented and I worked really hard, but I didn’t really think about it. It just happened. Now I think I can approach it in a different way but still achieve the same level of success.
The entire year of the London buildup, I was unhappy. I was injured and couldn’t run until May before the Olympics. All these cool things were happening—Proctor & Gamble was one of my sponsors, I was on a General Mills cereal box and the Olympic committee was using my name and face as one of their targeted athletes to medal. On the outside it looked like I was this superstar triathlete who was going to podium in London. That’s what I had to believe I could do, because I did have that potential—I had shown that. But I was not in a position that whole year to execute that race in August. It was a little tough getting all that attention and pressure, yet not actually running and getting myself ready properly. It’s a positive thing to have pressure, but when you can’t deliver it’s really difficult. I would love to go into Rio with the same hype, but also be healthy enough and be in a good position to medal and be able to enjoy it all a little more.
Before I joined Siri’s group I really didn’t see myself going any further than Rio. I wanted to go to med school and be a doctor and have a family. I do have ambitions outside of triathlon. But now, training with girls who are in their 30s and 40s and seeing that they’ve made a career out of triathlon has opened my eyes to that possibility. I was the oldest person in my group most of the time that I was training for London, with kids that were also in school and in the same stage of life that I was, but now I see people like Rinny and Jodie Swallow and how they’ve made a career out of the sport, and it makes me want to do that, too.
I’m pretty shy when I meet new people. I have a hard time speaking up in big groups—like more than one person. But with my family I’m completely different! I’m very stubborn, very organized and want everything done my way. You have to be a little self-centered to be a high-level athlete, I think. Looking out for yourself as No. 1 is not a good quality to have for everything, but it is important to be the best athlete you can be. That’s hard to live with and I really acknowledge and appreciate that. I was pretty demanding at home!
[Canadian Olympic gold and silver medalist] Simon Whitfield’s friendship is really important to me. He’s super smart and resourceful and he’s been through everything as an athlete himself. Over the winter we sat down and talked about something he calls ‘back-scaling.’ You have a goal like the Rio Olympics, and instead of looking forward you walk through what that race will look like and the ideal outcome and then work your way backward from there. What will you be doing a month out from Rio? What will you be doing a year out from Rio? All the way up to what you will be doing tomorrow. That was a cool exercise and now I’ve mapped out a big chart with my goals.
People say that having red hair makes you fiery or tough, but I don’t totally believe that. I forget I’m a redhead half the time because my hair is always wet and dark and pulled up. But there is a history of Canadian athletes with red hair who have done well, like Sam McGlone and Sarah-Anne Brault, so that’s a cool thing. It’s also cool to have the same name as Paula Newby-Fraser and Paula Radcliffe. Those tiny things keep me motivated sometimes!
One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy’ [Guillaume Apollinaire]. I often get caught up in being a perfectionist, striving to achieve big goals and having an idea of what the ultimate happiness would look like. However, it’s important to remember to enjoy the journey, find happiness in the process of achieving my goals and embrace the challenges. The quote is a good reminder to stay positive and find joy in the little things, every single day.