Fresh from the ITU Triathlon World Cup in Ishigaki, Japan, this weekend, multi-talented athlete Kirsten Sweetland talks to redbull.com about a frustrating start to the year and that being able to laugh at yourself is definitely the best medicine.
Canadian triathlete Kirsten Sweetland is full of energy as she brushes herself down after a tough few weeks. A multi-bike pile-up in Sydney a few weeks ago ended the 23-year-old’s hopes of taking the win at the key event as she and another competitor were taken off the course amid the chaos. Annoyingly for Kirsten, the disappointment followed an earlier crash – her first since 2004 – further up Australia’s east coast at Mooloolaba, Queensland. The earlier crash was an added blow after she claimed victory at the same event in 2009 winning the World Cup.
“I suppose it has been a really good test of my character,” muses Kirsten, a lighthearted tone to her voice. “Hopefully I’m passing that test OK. I came here to Japan last minute as I just really wanted to run.”
A 23rd-placed finish at the competition maybe wasn’t the result she was hoping for, but, after the mayhem of the last month, Kirsten has got her head straight and is taking it in her stride. The crash in Sydney is a reminder that the sport can be unpredictable at times.
“It’s pretty crazy,” she admits, adding that the video posted on her blog site serves as an important training tool for spotting where things can go wrong. “A British girl crashed somehow – I think she hit wheels with another girl – and she went down. I just happened to be right behind her out of a pack of about 30 people.”
Travelling at almost 50kph, Kirsten says there was nowhere else to go apart from straight into the whole mess. “I went flying over the bars and a couple more girls ran into me,” she continues. “I ended up with chain grease and tyre marks all over my face and neck… I don’t even know how. Watching the video, it looks different to how I remember it and, yeah, there was some blood. That was in Sydney at the first World Champ series – one of the seven biggest races.”
'The crash in Sydney is a reminder that the sport can be unpredictable at times'
With a focus on the World Championship Series, Kirsten competes around the world from May to September with eight races making up the season. Points are accrued along the way and the winner is the person with the biggest haul at the end. Kirsten says the system has become more complicated in recent years and what was previously a one-day event has been given a serious makeover, transforming it into a world-class global concept that requires athletes to devote most of the year to training and competing.
Currently she’s living in Australia where she’s working with a dedicated coach training on the famed Gold Coast and splits her time between there and Europe, where most of the events take place.
“There’s not a lot of downtime and we train for 11 months of the year,” explains Kirsten, who packs in as much fun around her schedule as she can manage. “In the daytime I’m a coffee shop addict! I’ll meet up with friends a lot and I like cooking. If I’m in Australia I really like doing watersports, jetskiing and bodyboarding – basically I like to be outside and being with my friends. I’ve got people all round the world and I don’t get that much opportunity to see them all.”
The lifestyle is demanding and as something of a perfectionist, Kirsten isn’t happy giving anything less than 100 per cent. She trains for 37 hours a week doing aerobic activity and spends many more hours in the gym and with the physio.
'I think my parents must have put me in sports clubs because I had too much energy'
The fascination with triathlons began at a young age when she picked up a flyer at a local mall. “I was already involved in a lot of sports and at the time I was doing gymnastics, figure skating, synchronised swimming… and we joined the swimming club through that and they entered a local triathlon. I went with that, doing kids events for fun,” she remembers. “My dad used to do them way back in the 80s but I didn’t know that. It had nothing to do with me starting but once I did, we’d do them together and we had fun racing against each other.”
It’s hard to imagine the excitable voice at the other end of the phone belonging to anyone other than someone who likes to always be on the move. Kirsten readily admits that she’s always been the same, brimming with energy and scratching at the walls until she’s able to expend some of it.
“I was the baby that didn’t sleep for the first three years of my life!” she laughs. “I think my parents must have put me in sports clubs because I had too much energy. Every year in the school yearbook I always wrote ‘professional athlete’ when it asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. My little sister’s says teacher one year, then artist or dancer for another year but mine was the same every time. I’m pretty sure I knew where I wanted to go. I can’t draw or sing to save my life; I was dealt one card and I’m gonna use it!”