A lot of kids are quitting elite sport when they have reached a plateau. Andrew Bysice could be one of them, but instead, he decided to give triathlon a chance . At 25 years old, he seems to be too old for the sport, but judging by his times in the pool and on the track, he is one of the best potentials in Canada and he is still improving on the international scene. Trimes.org wanted to interview him to share his experience because we see so many athletes quitting too early.
Hi Andrew, you did your first world cup in October and you’re not well know by the community because your route is quite different. Can you tell me how you started the sport? And what was the starting point?
I started as a competitive swimmer. I was swimming at age 8 on a novice team and then became serious when I was 14. I swam at the junior national level and eventually started swimming with McMaster University. Needless to say, my varsity swimming career was lack luster. Looking back it was not a very happy 4 years. I felt that I wasn’t swimming at my full potential and had more to give. When I finished my undergrad I didn’t have a job, I was done with swimming and I just got out of a long term relationship. I was completely lost, upset and didn’t know what to do.
Usually swimming was what consoled me at times like that. It was so simple and pure that it always made things clearer to me, but I didn’t want to go back to all that disappointment. I decided to take up triathlon because it was something new and different and it was going to be a challenge. At first it was just for fun and it kept me in shape. But then it became more and more serious as time went on. I realized I was a pretty good runner and when I enrolled into a Masters program at McMaster, I decided to join the Cross Country team. I started to improve more and wanted to get into draft legal racing. My first draft legal race was an eye opening experience. It was nothing like a non-draft legal race. I was blown away by how difficult it was. I was addicted to it and wanted more. From there, I was committed to triathlon and to go as far as I could. This sport is my second chance. I knew how it felt to walk away from something when you knew there was more to give. And I never want to feel that way again.
How do you explain that you were not attracted by triathlon before?
I remember watching Simon win his gold medal in Sydney with my Mom. She told me that she thought I should be doing that sport and it would be a good fit for me. My body type wasn’t that of a swimmer. She brought it up with my coach at the time and he said that I could do triathlon when I was older. I look back and wonder why he said that. Really he was pointing out that Triathlon didn’t have any scholarships opportunities at universities. I was having some success in the pool so I didn’t feel I needed to find another sport because I was still being competitive and enjoying the sport.
Do you feel a little bit unnoticed because you started the sport late?
Absolutely. At the start I was not really known amongst other triathletes. I don’t think they took me too seriously at the beginning. But as I showed up to more and more races, it seemed that people started know who I was. It doesn’t matter to me if people don’t notice me, at the end of the day if you are successful, you will be noticed.
I guess people are saying you are too old to reach the ITU Level? I mean a lot of people can be really negative and with the new generation attaining a plateau and leaving the sport, you are quite unconventional and disturbing for them.
A lot of people have been negative. People said since the system was set up for juniors and U23 there is no hope for me. They said I came to the sport too late and I was too old. But it was really Reid Coolsaet that encouraged me to keep going at the beginning. He was one of those guys that started out late as well and he has been and continues to be successful. Also, I look up to guys like Andrew Russell who started late as well. His accomplishments speak for themselves. There is evidence of people pulling off what I am trying to do. I just have to stay positive and love the process, because when you love the day-to-day grind, the results will come.
Do you have the feeling that the present system is not made for people like you? Are you RTC eligible?
As mentioned, I believe that it hasn’t been set up with people like me in mind. However, that is changing. Especially with the Tri-it program that is being put in place. I think we just have to keep an open mind with all triathletes. If a triathlete is improving, showing signs of potential, and willing to put in the time to go even further then I think they should be given the chance to develop and get support regardless of age.
I think I am RTC eligible (I really haven’t checked). I have worked with Craig Taylor before and would love to continue working with him in the future.
I know that you are more positive than me on the Tri-it program (triathlon Canada program to recruit talent from others sports)…
Absolutely I look at it with a positive view. I see this program as an opportunity for very talented individuals that are past the Junior or u23 stage to get some funding so they can develop into world class triathletes. As an athlete that started this sport later in life, opportunity for funding at an older age is relatively small. A lot of times money is coming out of pocket to get to a level where I can actually start winning prize money just to break even, let alone have the money to eat.
I know Trimes has been vocal about possible misconceptions that Tri Can is perpetuating, one of which is that you can make a lot of money as a triathlete. The reason that Triathlon Canada is advertising prize money as a recruiting tool is because you need to convince post-collegiate athletes to hold off on a career (where they will make money) to pursue a childhood dream to compete at major games. Because the time commitment to become a world class triathlete is so great, it is hard for a person with a good job to justify quitting for an dream that has no promise of financial compensation. As an older athlete that has friends who have full time jobs, houses and are getting married, I am pausing that other chapter of my life for this sport and dream. I don’t regret this decision but having help would be nice.
Can you tell us what is your training structure in McMaster? Do you have a triathlon coach or do you navigate between swimming and running university teams? I do have a triathlon coach. His name is Lee Hart. Not a lot of people know of him, which is a shame, because he so good. I believe that you cannot judge a coach by whom they have coached (a lot of coaches sell themselves by name dropping) or how much they claim to know about elite training. The best coaches are the ones that have a passion for the sport, are willing to keep learning and are willing to sacrifice as much as the athlete. Lee is one of those guys. What also is great about our relationship is that we work together and work with other coaches that have better expertise in their respective sports. Lee and I do not know everything and have teamed up with the XC team at McMaster (Paula Schnurr, Pete Self and Rory Sneyd) to help me develop as a runner. Also, we work with Craig Mortimer (father of the Paralympic medalist Summer Mortimer) for swimming. Even though I don’t swim for Andrew Cole anymore, he still supports me and allows me to jump into his pool time to get extra swims in. I am very appreciative of this. Also, I work with a mental performance consultant, Larry Abbott, who guides me through the mental side of training, racing and life. He is one of those guys who pays attention to the other muscle that needs training too….my brain.
I know that you are close to Andrew Yorke, I guess you are training with him, what are the dynamic between you? Do you get some advice from Barrie Shepley (Yorke’s Coach)? Andrew and I are really good friends. Since we have different coaches, we usually aren’t on the same training schedule. However, sometimes the training matches and we can do some stuff together. We do hang out a lot because we also share a lot of the same friends. I have learned so much from him, not only from his knowledge, but how he approaches his training and prepares for his races. It is always a great experience to see first hand the day-to-day grind that is required to get to the top. Having Andrew around has been invaluable to my development.
I haven’t really talked to Barrie much. When we do talk he is always very encouraging and supportive of my pursuit. He is a big supporter of any Canadian triathlete.
We are talking a lot about the Guelph sport community, but Reid Coolsaet is between Hamilton and Guelph, so are you profiting from the Guelph dynamic and knowledge? I think Hamilton has some dynamic and knowledge of its own that is under valued, therefore, we are not reliant on Guelph’s knowledge. However, I am really good friends with Reid Coolsaet and his knowledge and presence in my life has helped me develop into a great athlete. Also, working with Craig Taylor has helped me as well. So, if that’s me profiting from Guelph, I guess I am.
Is there any rivalry between Guelph and Hamilton? I hope so. Joking! The Guelph triathlon crew is amazing. I have worked with those guys before and loved it. So I really I don’t think there is one. But if there is, no one has told me!
How would you describe this past season? I would describe it as bittersweet. There were many highs and lows this year. The highest was when I won Elite Provincials in Ottawa. It was my first triathlon win and it was a race that was executed perfectly. Also, getting to race my first World Cup in Cancun was an awesome experience. Even though the result was not great, I still think it was invaluable.
However, the lows were my 2 DNFs in Dallas and Kelowna. Since it was my first full year of racing ITU I think these races were definitely a learning experience. In Dallas, my flight was delayed and I was forced to stay the night in Houston and arrived the day before the race. I then got to Dallas and my luggage and my bike were still in Houston. I got my bike and luggage around 2pm and was forced to do a quick race prep before the meeting. Needless to say I was exhausted when I got to the starting line and the rest of the race went down hill from there. With Kelowna, essentially I lost my water bottle with all my salt 500m into the bike. In 37oC heat, I needed that bottle. Matt Vierula helped me out at the tail end by giving me some of his water, but essentially I was so dehydrated I was vomiting on the bike and on the run. I decided to pull the plug and get out of the race before I did real damage. Essentially, this was a learning year for me for what to plan/prepare for next year.
What is your biggest weakness right now? I know that you are struggling in open water, how do you explain that? You nailed it. Open water swimming. I am faster than a lot of guys in a pool but they can beat me in the open water. Lee, Craig and I discussed what I was missing. We came to the conclusion that we have to stop looking at the swim as 1500 meters and start looking at it as a 2-hour race. I feel a lot of my training last year was speed/quality and not a lot of endurance training. I therefore would get out fast and then loose feet because I didn’t have the endurance to stay where I was. Another reason is my lack of experience swimming in the open water. Therefore, we have shifted our focus in training towards endurance and getting more work in the open water to get better experience.
What’s your goal for 2013? I have goals for next year but I will keep them between my coach and me. They are ambitious, but I think doable; one of the goals I will share is to get into a WTS race for next year. It is something I have always wanted to do since getting into this sport.
I guess some people would like to see you in long distance since you are older than others, how do you respond? I think my greatest potential lies in this distance and racing style. I feel I have speed in my run and swim. It signals to me that there is potential for improvement….. I just have to be patient and let it develop. Plus….I can always do longer distances when I am older 😉
Anything you want to add? Thanks for this opportunity!