Baby, he was born to run – and bike, and swim

Paul Mayne//Western News

First-year Science student Liam Donnelly is gearing up for a busy summer of triathlons, including representing Team Canada at the 2018 Brasilia CAMTRI Triathlon American Championships.

It didn’t take long for Liam Donnelly to get a noise complaint in residence. And he admits his guilt.

“I was riding an exercise bike (in my room) and the person below me thought I was vacuuming for two hours,” Donnelly laughed.

This summer, the first-year Science student hopes to make some noise of a different sort as he gears up to represent Team Canada at the 2018 Brasilia CAMTRI Triathlon American Championships, set for June in Brazil.

The 19-year-old triathlete trains at least twice a day – if not three times – seven days a week. A typical week’s workout sees Donnelly swim approximately 25 kilometres, bike more than 200 kilometres and run 60 kilometres. Add to that a full course load for the Western National Scholar and a commitment to the Mustangs Track & Field and Cross-country teams.

“A balancing act? That’s a good way to put it,” he said. “You really have to manage your time well. But you have more time than you think, if you prepared and plan ahead. My days are pretty booked up, but I can usually get everything done if I’m on top of it. You make time for the things you love.”

That love for triathlons came at a young age. As a nine year old, the Mountsberg, Ont., native watched the end of the 2008 Olympic Triathlon and thought he wanted to “give that a shot.” A cross-country runner in grade school, he trained over the next couple summers for his first competition as an 11-year-old. There was one minor hiccup, though.

“I remember being in the hotel the night before my first race trying to teach myself to swim, because I was an awful swimmer,” he laughed. “It was only 100 metres, but at the time it seemed like it was miles. I was just worried about finishing the swim. I ended up winning the race and I was hooked.

“For me, it was the whole race atmosphere. It’s like a huge party, everyone is cheering for everyone, you are friends with all you competitors, parents are yelling at each other; it’s just fun.”

The triathlon is a three-part event comprising swimming, cycling and running, in that order, and contested as a continuous event without a rest. Dating back to the early 1970s with the San Diego Track Club, the first triathlon was held on Sept. 25, 1974. Many know the sport from the famed Ironman Triathlon held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, since 1978, and aired to great fanfare on ABC’s Wide World of Sports for close to two decades.

Canada has been at the forefront of the sport since the 1980s, inspired by trailblazers like Carol Montgomery, Patricia and Sylviane Puntous, Peter Reid and Lori Bowden. Those athletes laid the foundation for Simon Whitfield’s gold-medal performance as the sport made its Olympic debut at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia.

Paul Mayne//Western NewsFirst-year Science student Liam Donnelly is working towards the International Triathlon Union Junior World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia, in September.

Donnelly has quickly moved up the ranks of the sport, attending provincial and national competitions across North America and competing in close to 10 triathlons each summer. Now at the junior level, Donnelly’s races consist of a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike ride and 5-kilometre run. He also competes at the elite level in some races, which doubles the length the competition, similar to that of the Olympics.

This past month, Donnelly saw a solid improvement in his time in the junior men’s division at the North American CAMTRI Championships in Florida, finishing fifth with a time of 55:23, up 11 spots from last year’s race and just 32 seconds behind the leader.

His continued success caught the eye of Team Canada, with Donnelly learning just last week he’ll be heading to Brazil this summer to represent his country at the 2018 Brasilia CAMTRI Triathlon American Championships. This will be his biggest competition to date.

Donnelly is hoping for a solid performance in Brazil, and the handful of other races he has this summer, will earn him a qualifying bid for the International Triathlon Union Junior World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia.

“You don’t want to know what my heart rate is like before a race – it’s so nerve-racking. But it’s still fun for me,” he said. “Most people will ask, ‘So, you just run and it’s fun?’ What I really like about it is the team atmosphere. While during the race there’s no friendship, after it’s all good.

“There’s also the atmosphere with the training, like running with Western. They’re a great group of guys and going to practice is fun. It’s not work when you have a group. Plus, going around the world to race? Things could be worse.”