Building a Professional Triathlete
Building a Professional Triathlete
Author : Kelly Louiseize
Editor : Jennifer J. Lacelle
Date : May 26, 2021
It’s pouring rain and cold enough to turn to wet snow. Kyle Jones’ body is screaming to shut down. Those are the days that separate the winner from the contender, says one of Canada’s best triathletes for over a decade.
Kyle spent the last 12 years traveling the world competing and winning three national championships, medaling at multiple world cup events and representing Canada at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
“It’s the perseverance in those low moments when the training is tough. That’s when big things happen.”
Kyle officially announced his retirement three years ago May of 2018 in pursuit of his new coaching and consulting business.
His love of the sport began with Doug his father, a high school physical education teacher who woke at 6 a.m. for triathlon training.
It wasn’t popular back then - barely an utter in the papers. If Doug was running, Kyle was riding his bike beside him. If Doug was swimming, Kyle was poolside. He liked endurance training, even at the age of 10.
His parents put him in Lacrosse at age four, but that didn’t resonate. Neither did piano, although he admits, his sister Shannon, is much better at it than he ever was or wanted to be. Regardless, his parents made him finish the year. Both parents were sticklers on hard work, discipline and follow through - no matter the activity.
What did fit was joining the cross-country running team at Pine Grove Public School in Oakville, Ontario. Teacher John Mark Deneau was equally passionate about sports and thus created an environment filled with support and encouragement.
School meets began and Kyle medaled in the long-distance races. He stayed with the team throughout his elementary years, all while keeping those mornings sacred between dad and him.
The Inconspicuous Leader
A small shift occurred when Kyle’s high school coach Bryan Camani, went beyond the call of a teacher and developed a solid track and field program that enabled Kyle to train not only outdoors but indoors when the weather turned cold. “
To get that kind of coaching you need to be part of a club. I was so lucky to have that level of training program year-round in a high school setting.”
Grade 10, Bryan provided Kyle the opportunity to train at York University’s indoor training facility twice a week. “That was a huge commitment as a coach because sometimes we would train until early evening and not get back to Oakville until 9 p.m.
He had kids of his own at home too.”
Shepherding with Shepley
Training continued for three years into Kyle’s Ontario Academic Credit (OAC) year. In 2002, while at York, Kyle was introduced to Barrie Shepley. Barrie is a renowned triathlon coach who has helped some of Canada’s best.
Barrie began seeing good things in Kyle. He invited him to train with his group for the summer. It would mean a full-fledged professional program starting at the junior level. Kyle would be mixed with other aspiring athletes of all ages and stages of performance.
The steep learning curve meant he had to get serious about his goals and fast. In 2002, he placed fourth at the National Junior Championships, not at all bad for his first National level race at 17-years old.
The top four athletes secured their place at the Junior World Championships in Cancun, Mexico that fall.
“Making that team was a pretty big moment. Up until then, I still really considered myself a runner. I was hoping to get a scholarship at a university down south, but making that team changed my direction.”
The Game Changer Invitation
The following year Kyle won the National Junior Championship, and again earned a place at the Junior World Championships later that year in Queenstown, New Zealand.
It was there he met Simon Whitfield for the first time - a meeting that would later prompt an invitation to a two-week training camp he and his coach, Lance Watson was hosting in the lead up to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. At the end of the second week Simon asked Kyle to stick around. “I spent the entire summer with him. I trained with him all the way up until he left for Athens. That was such a key moment.
He and Lance saw something in me. It was the first time I knew my dream could become a reality.” Simon stayed in contact with Kyle through his second year of Human Kinetics at the University of Guelph. Between he and Lance, they did their best to encourage his move to Vancouver.
"I wanted to be a professional athlete and if that meant that I sign on under Simon, who better to learn from than the Olympic gold medalist, his coach and all the other high achieving athletes surrounding me.”
Doug had always taught his boy to set short-term goals and build on them.
“I never thought I was a natural. My dad taught me that part of goal setting is the sacrifices you make toward your them. Pounding the pavement when it’s raining builds fortitude, strong will and winners.”
Rubber Hits the RoadFor the next few months, Kyle worked like a dog. He found a billeting family, rode his bike to workouts, walked to the grocery store, cooked, ate and slept – that was his life. He was apprenticing to be a professional athlete, committing to the strain each day in a city where it rained from January to March.
It provided little downtime for schoolwork. It soon became clear that he had to choose between committing himself to training or his studies. Education had to wait. Training consisted of four-to-six hours each day, starting with the pool.
He was in his element. Everyone surrounding him was aspiring to become professional. He admits it was a bit of a sheltered lifestyle, more of an incubation centre.
Dialing it in
Since running and cycling came easy, Kyle needed to work on his swimming. “It took a while. It wasn’t overnight, but I really started improving.”
All the tireless hours at the gym, in the pool, running in the early morning rain was all with the Beijing Olympics in mind. He wanted a seat on that bus. It was selection time. Triathlon Canada had three spots available for Beijing. Naturally, Simon Whitfield was a shoe in. Paul Tichelaar (Tish) from Edmonton worked hard for the second seat and Colin Jenkins was chosen as a domestique for Simon, in a supporting role.
“I felt I deserved to be selected,” Kyle recalls. “I put the hard work in and had strong performances in the months and days that led up to the announcement.” “But in fairness Colin trained for the role of domestique, putting in the same hours but with a different goal in mind.” Probably any average person might have just become frustrated, and all the efforts would have gone sideways – at least for a short time. Not Kyle.
“I set my mind on the London Olympics. I never thought about stopping. If anything, this setback fueled me even more. I left no stone unturned. I was going to be on that start line in London.” As it was, Kyle was selected as the alternate to go to Beijing.
He sat in the stands watching his teammates compete. It was everything he could do to contain himself. “It gave me an idea of what to expect in London. I really have to thank Triathlon Canada for that.” Coming back home, Kyle was deliberate with his meals and training regiments.
Fast food was off the table for a decade, only fresh foods that would spoil if left out longer than three days. A car conserved his energy. Sponsors and the Canadian government were now offering contracts with extra bonuses if he placed. Cervelo, Power Bar and Asics were the constant equipment suppliers, providing a small salary which grew over time.
Maytag endorsed Kyle for the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. Now it came down to the small differences that could result in a podium finish: a catnap in the afternoon, a specific meal the night before, a massage or extra physio.
It really was about knowing how one’s body performs under extreme pressure and giving it everything it needs to make it happen, he says. Kyle attributes a long-time relationship with world leading coach Joel Filliol, whom he worked with on and off from 2006-2009 and again from 2011-2016, to prepare him for competition.
Compartmentalizing the Race
“It’s a two-hour race and each is broken into their respective disciplines, so it is pretty easy to stay engaged. From the moment you dive off the pontoon into the water, to the first turn buoy of the swim, the intense physical and technical demands of the bike and the always grueling 10 km run to the finish, there’s always something to focus on.”
He would look for those times to increase the pace late in a race, when everyone was hurting including him but just found a way to dig a little deeper, put up with the hurt a little more. Once he picked a moment to increase the pace there was no looking back.
“It could be 400 meters or two kilometers from the finish line, once you start to fatigue and you see others doing the same, that’s when you make your move, and you go. You have to stay fully committed and be in control.” It is a mental game as much as a physical one, he smiles. Kyle did go to the London Olympics. He placed 25th.
Over the Top
Rare is the athlete that has been in the sport for as long as Kyle and not incurred injuries. He had his trophy scars that stirred up conversation and anecdotes for what not to do next time.
In New Zealand he took a nasty fall. Kyle was behind the bike of another athlete as they were descending when the front rider hit a pothole losing control of his bike. Kyle had nowhere to go but over top of him at 50 kilometers an hour. He fractured his sacrum and was not able to train for two months.
“Sports is unfair. But it is all part of that mental challenge. You always have to stay resilient, determined and persevere, especially in the low moments.”
It has been three years since Kyle has raced professionally. He wanted to take time with his family.
“I struggled with retirement not so much because of the timing but because I was worried about never finding something that would be rewarding again from a career standpoint.”
He considered going back to school for business, however he believes he has had his own personal education on that front. After all, he managed himself like a business – buying a bike, when he could afford more - a scooter and after obtaining sponsorships and prize money - a car.
He moved from billeting to renting a small apartment and eventually purchasing a condo with when he had the funds to do so. If his past gives any indication of what the future holds, we may be watching a stellar coach in the ranks.
“My sporting career has equipped me with a set of skills that is helping me achieve my new professional goals. I’m excited to give back to a sport that has given me so much.”
For more information on Kyle Jones – please go to his website:
Look below for fun facts.
1) What motivates you to lead today?
I’m motivated by my two boys. My Dad always used to tell me to lead by example, so I try to do the same with my family.
2) What would you do differently if no one was watching?
I’ve spent countless hours staring at a black line at the bottom of a pool, out on the bike lost in the mountains or running on some quiet trail in the middle of nowhere, on my own, or with a few close training partners and a committed coach. I would say 99 percent of my athletic career nobody saw. Spectators watch the races, but most people don’t see the level of commitment it takes. It’s hard to capture that in a social media post. The rewards came in the races but the feeling of satisfaction for me was in the preparation. That’s what I miss most now. I enjoyed the day-to-day training. The hard work. I didn’t see it as a sacrifice. I thrived most in that environment. Looking back on my career those training memories are what I remember most.
3) Are you on the right path now?
I feel like I am. As much as I miss the high-performance training environment, this is the best place for me right now, with Kelly and the boys. I felt that to pursue my business goals and give back to a sport that has given me so much, I had to let go and find closure in my athletic career. Time will tell how far this goes. If my dedication to this sport is any indication of the discipline, I will show my business, then I feel like I can do well.
4) How comfortable are you at being uncomfortable?
Physically and mentally I’m very comfortable with it. So much of high-performance sport is training the body and mind to embrace discomfort. That is ultimately where you can make the biggest gains. The longer you can cope with discomfort, the better your chances are at winning. Being too comfortable often leads to complacency. If you fall into a state of complacency, you’re unlikely to see improvements and further your development.
5) What do you like most about yourself?
My work ethic. I’ve never been afraid of hard work and that spans all areas of my life – not just athletics. I’m most happy when I’m working towards something. Setting goals and pursuing something meaningful