There’s a local connection to the first medal for Canada at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland and it came in the Women’s Triathlon.
Kirsten Sweetland, former Parksville resident, finished in second place during a strong showing in the Women’s Triathlon at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, currently taking place in Scotland.
Now residing in Victoria, the 25-year-old Sweetland captured Canada’s first medal of the Commonwealth Games. She completed the 1,500-metre swim, 40-kilometre cycle and 10 kilometre run in a time of 1 hour, 58 minutes and 56 seconds, five seconds short of England’s Jodie Stimpson and the Gold Medal.
“Totally pain free. It feels so good,” Sweetland said with a tired smile. “It feels unbelievable to get a medal.”
Sweetland got her start in the triathlons locally, competing all over Vancouver Island, including right here in our backyard in Qualicum Beach. She moved on to become the Junior World Champion in 2006 and she was the Silver Medalist in the U-23 World Championship and a Silver at the Pan American Games, both in 2010.
She has struggled with injuries for years, and more recently battled food allergies, but she peaked at the right time. Less than two weeks ago, she reached the podium in a World Triathlon Series event for the first time in her career, finishing third in Hamburg.
It’s been a tough six years for Sweetland, which all began when she missed out on qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and included suffering seven stress fractures and a torn plantar fascia. After suffering through all the hardships, she finally is starting to break through.
“We’re talking about a redeveloping Kirsten here, so awesome. Awesome for Kirsten,” said Canadian coach Jaime Turner. “She ran really tough, I thought she was quite clinical and ruthless out there.”
Sweetland was a rising star in the triathlon world when she became the youngest Canadian to win a World Cup race at the age of 18. She was on pace for a spot on the Beijing Olympic team, but she fainted 400 metres from the finish line.
From that point on, it’s been years of one stress injury after another, stress fractures to be exact. The first came in her tibia and then her lower back; she’d later discover it was due to one of her legs being longer than the other. The most severe injury was the torn plantar fascia, the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot.
“I would get the whole winter of training done, nobody knew that I was working hard, and then right about race season I’d be out again. And again. And again,” she said. “Having the podium finish in Hamburg, I didn’t think I’d be able to medal again. But when that happened, everything started to change for me mentally.”
The five-foot-four Sweetland was 11th in the 1,500-metre swim but led after the 40-kilometre bike. And then it was a foot race between the top six over the 10-kilometre run, with Sweetland and Stimpson barely giving an inch until the home stretch.