December 8, 2020

Why Paula Findlay’s Win is a Win for Women in Sport

Triathlon is hard. And it’s been especially hard on young female athletes. Paula Findlay’s win at the 2020 PTO Championships at Challenge Daytona is a win for these women.

Text by Ellen Pennock

ICYMI: Canadian Paula Findlay won Challenge Daytona (and a cool $100,000) in a field of ITU super stars and long course legends. Watching Paula’s win over the weekend was particularly meaningful for me. More on this later.

For those of you following their Vlog, That Triathlon Life, Paula and Eric have been documenting the ups and downs of training for triathlon during COVID, including drone drama, getting a puppy and an overhaul of their van. What isn’t documented in the Vlog is Paula’s 10 year journey to getting back to the top step on the podium.

2011. 22-year-old Paula Findlay won 3 World Championship Series (now called WTS) to start off her season. She was the overwhelming favourite to win the 2012 Olympic Games. 

I met Paula in the latter half of 2011, at the beginning of her long bout with injury. In 2012, I got to be one of Paula’s training partners leading into the 2012 Olympics and travelled with her to Maui and Australia for warm weather camps. For me, fresh out of my junior years, travelling and training with the best in the world was new and exciting. For Paula, each day brought mounting pressure. 

My friends and I here in Victoria, BC woke up at 2 am to watch Paula race at the 2012 London Olympics. Although heartbreaking, I remember reading that Paula got up the next day and went for a run – a small act of resiliency.

For the next 8 years, I watched Paula re-invent herself as a triathlete (you can listen to her IronWomen Podcast here) as I too, a few years later, had to do the same. Although my fall was not as steep as Paula’s, I fully respect her courage to just keep going despite all odds.

We admire Paula for her resiliency and steadfast determination but here’s the thing: the path doesn’t have to be this hard for female athletes. 

We admire Paula for her resiliency and steadfast determination, but here’s the thing: the path to the top of triathlon doesn’t have to be this hard for female athletes. 

Each of us has a story and this is Paula’s. It’s a waste of energy to look back and say “what if”. But it doesn’t mean that the next generation of athletes has to go through the same thing. 

I grew up with a cohort of female triathletes from around the world who have either left the sport prematurely or have had exceptionally hard paths. I saw Paula’s win over the weekend as a win for every one of those girls. For the girls who didn’t get to reach their potential. For the girls who stopped believing in themselves. Thank you, Paula. 

There’s still work to be done. The solution to keeping girls in sport (and keeping them healthy) is multifaceted and requires an overhaul to sport culture as a whole. Funding organizations, Olympic committees, national federations, grassroot organizations, coaches and the athletes themselves all have a role to play in creating a sustainable future for women and girls in sport. 

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This article appeared in our Feisty Things This Week newsletter. You can subscribe here.

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Ellen does a bunch of things behind-the-scenes for Feisty Media, including occasionally writing, making cameos in TikToks and sometimes signs her emails Creative Director. She grew up racing triathlon for Canada in Victoria, BC.

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