The sense of pride felt when setting a personal best is a feeling not easily described. Instead, Samantha Lacey-Avon decided to have her colleagues and friends experience it themselves.

A former competitive swimmer, the server at the popular Next Act pub in Old Strathcona took on her first triathlon two years ago. That’s when she discovered team relays, events that allow up to three people to split up the biking, running and swimming legs that make up a triathlon.

Excited at the prospect of involving some of her best friends (the crew at Next Act are tight) – and perhaps a little fazed by the running and biking portions of the competition – she decided they’d tackle the sprint relay event at last year’s ITU World Triathlon Edmonton, which consists of a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike ride and a five-kilometre run. 

She started off with three teams in 2016, but involvement picked up exponentially for this year’s event. There are nine Next Act teams registered for the sprint relay on Saturday, July 29, at William Hawrelak Park. 

“Next Act is really great in that we have a lot of regular customers and a lot of them were really excited and supportive of us when we participated last year,” said Lacey-Avon. “This year I wanted to try to include some of the customers as well.”

Of course, this means more logistics for her. But Lacey-Avon doesn’t seem to mind.

“It’s a really unique experience and unique feeling to compete in such a professional setting, even if it’s just for fun or your own personal goals. Seeing my co-workers experience that is really the biggest reward,” she said.

Samantha Lacey-Avon

"The team events are such a great way of getting people across that first barrier."

As the world’s top athletes gear up for the ITU World Triathlon Edmonton on July 28-29, so do over 400 amateurs and first-time triathletes. Introduced to the Olympics in 2000, the sport is quickly gaining popularity with the masses – in part due to introductory events such as team relays and try a tri, which have shorter distances in each discipline than the elite races.

“I really like the consideration (the ITU) put into trying to get as many people involved as possible,” said Lacey-Avon. “The team events are such a great way of getting people across that first barrier.”

The barrier, of course, being that an Olympic distance triathlon involves a 1,500-metre swim, 40-kilometre cycle and a 10-kilometre run.

So, what exactly motivates local athletes to participate in such a gruelling sport?

For Val Berger, vice-president of financial services at ATCO, it was the challenge of learning something new.

When she first signed up in 2014, Berger couldn’t even swim 25 metres. But with the help of coaches – provided through the ITU World Triathlon Edmonton corporate training program – she was quickly able to gain the confidence she needed to compete in the 750-metre open water swim in the sprint event.

Now triathlon is big part of Berger’s life. She’s even hoping to qualify for the 2018 World Triathlon in her age category.

“Doing something physical like this, especially with the three disciplines, it really forces you to focus on being present and allows you to escape everything else that may be occurring in your life – bad or good,” she said.

There are six ATCO employees participating in the triathlon this year. In the past, there have been up to 20. Erin Newell-Lupien, team lead for community investment, says the company actively encourages participation as a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Doing something physical like this, especially with the three disciplines, it really forces you to focus on being present."

Morris Kopola’s involvement in the triathlon is a little less straight-forward.

When the mother of an elite athlete needed teammates to compete in Saturday’s relay, Christina Collins, communication and marketing manager for ITU World Triathlon Edmonton, immediately thought of the November Project. The community fitness group’s welcoming environment and can-do attitude almost guaranteed someone would step up.

Collins wasn’t wrong. 

Kopola and fellow November Project enthusiast Rob Hardy will join forces with Bonnie Spivey, mother of Taylor Spivey, currently ranked ninth in the world.

A former triathlete herself, Bonnie has been eyeing a return to the sport and thought she’d ease into it by taking part in the relay before watching her daughter compete in the elite women’s event later that afternoon.

A regular fixture at November Project workouts, Kopola was more than happy to adopt a stranger. Since moving back to Edmonton last year, the B.C. native has made many new connections through the fitness group.

“I’ve found it really ties the community together,” said Kopola.

The three will race in the Olympic distance relay under the apt moniker The Three Strangers.

For more information on the ITU World Edmonton Triathlon go to their website.

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