Triathlete enjoys ‘the spirit of the sport’

Kenn Oliver
Published on August 15, 2013
Marty Whelan of St. John’s is a rising star on the national triathlon scene, ranked third among 18-year-old competitors. He placed ninth at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que. this week and next year will compete in the Panamerican Triathlon Confederation championships in Brazil. — Photo by Kenn Oliver/The Telegram

He’s still only 18, barely out of high school, but it’s not unreason-able to suggest triathlete Marty

Whelan could represent Canada at an Olympic Summer Games one day.

“Few athletes really enjoy the spirit of the sport,” the lanky redhead says, “and I think I’m one them. “I think I’d like to go pretty far with it.”

If Whelan’s results from his first summer competing in the national junior series are any indication, the St. John’s resident is on the right path.

Following a sixth-place finish in the national championships in Toronto last month — his second such placing in the series — Whelan’s national ranking jumped from 18th all the way to fifth.

Among 18-year-olds, however, Whelan improved to third, guaranteeing him a spot on Canada’s team at the Panamerican Triathlon Confederation (PATCO) championships in Brazil next year.

“I’ve had a great race season in the junior series. Hopefully I’ll have some podium finishes next year because I’m ranked Top 3, so one can only hope.”

This week, at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que., Whelan turned in the best result among Team Newfoundland and Labrador’s squad of six triathletes, finishing ninth in a field of 30 men.

Whelan says having won the Quebec Cup Elite 17-years-and-under youth triathlon on the very same course last year served his confidence well on Tuesday.

“Some of the guys I know from the series didn’t have such a good race, and that’s not a good mindset coming into this race for them,” he explains.

“The under-17 category might not be recognized like the national junior series is, but it still helped me have a positive mindset going into the race.”

Following that win, Whelan and his father, Jim, were approached someone who put them in touch with Lorri Zagar, a certified triathlon coach on the mainland.

“I went there for a Christmas camp last year and it’s been great training ever since then,”  Whelan says.

About two weeks before the Games, Whelan collected his second straight sprint distance victory in the St. John’s Triathlon. He says the event was a good tune up at just the right time of the season.

“You want to make sure you’re still going through the motions. The time between the Toronto Nationals and the Games was three weeks, and during the triathlon season you don’t want to take that much time off from racing.

Still, he wouldn’t consider the St. John’s Tri a race this year.

“The coaches wanted us to take it easy, not injure anything, and see where we were at. I worked on some technical stuff, my transitions, making sure everything was clean there.

Team NL Coach Rob Gamberg has been working with Whelan for the better part of three years, and over that time he says the gifted young athlete has “come a long way.”

“We had to work on his biking and his running, and he’s done really well. His swimming has actually even improved the last year or two,” Gamberg says.

“He’s a natural athlete anyway, so I think any sport he does he will do well. By focusing on the biking and the running and keeping with the swimming his potential skyrocketed.”

Before following in his parents footsteps — Kathy, his mother, and Jim are triathletes — Whelan was a competitive swimmer with the St. John’s Legends. In fact, when it came to deciding what sport to focus on for these Games, he had to choose between the two.

“Fortunately for us, he picked the triathlon,” Gamberg says with a smile.

That’s not to say Whelan won’t continue to swim competitively. This fall, he’ll attend McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., where’ll join the Marauders’ aquatics team in Ontario University Sport conference meets.

There was even an invitation to attend the University of Guelph, home to a national training centre for triathlon where the aim is to develop athletes to land on the international podium.

But Whelan opted not take them up on the offer because, remarkably, he still feels a little green, having only competed in the national junior series for one year.

“For people who are still learning the ropes, it’s better to train with a swim team and a running team and do your biking on your own. I don’t want to give up competitive swimming right away, I still enjoy it.”

Whelan’s Games are far from over. On Friday he’ll take part in the male team event — a short 200m swim, a 6-kilometre bike ride and a one-mile run by each member — Nathan Wilson and Peter Gregory. On Saturday, he’ll be the anchor in the mixed event,which features two males and two females.

“Depth is key when it comes to relays,” Whelan says. “You know you how good you are individually, but you’ve got to be able to trust your teammates and know they’re thinking the same thing.”

Whelan may be the star of the team, but Gamberg says the other boys and the girls — Rebecca O’Leary, Emily McIlroy and Olivia Smith — all had strong showings, considering their inexperience in the sport.

“They do deserve a lot of credit. Even though the girls didn’t finish near the top or the middle, they still put 100 per cent effort in it.

“We’re pleased with their performances and Newfoundland should be proud of them.”