Triathlon Magazine Canada - - DEPARTMENTS - BY LOREEN PINDERA

Karen Thi­bodeau

IFIRST MET CATHY Bergman on an early morn­ing group trail run. We laced up in a park­ing lot just off Mon­tée Ryan, spit­ting dis­tance from the grassy slopes of Mont-trem­blant.

There were a dozen of us – the “real run­ners,” long-haired and leggy, up ahead with fit­ness coach Robert Roy. Cathy and I, chat­ting ami­ably, trot­ted along just fast enough to not lose sight of them in the sun-dap­pled for­est.

Bergman moved to the Lau­ren­tians from New York City in the sum­mer of 2001. On the morn­ing of Septem­ber 11, her co-work­ers were hav­ing break­fast in the World Trade Cen­ter. She was to join them on the phone from home. Some of Bergman’s co-work­ers died in the at­tack. Fluke tim­ing saved Bergman from near-cer­tain death that first time. The next time, a decade later, it had noth­ing to do with co­in­ci­dence and ev­ery­thing to do with her coach, Robert Roy. “He saved my life,” she says. Bergman, who is 5'3", was clos­ing in on 320 lbs. when her os­teopath sent her to Roy, a ki­ne­si­ol­o­gist, to see if he could help her. She was in pain and con­stantly ex­hausted.

“I think when some­one sug­gests to some­one who is tremen­dously over­weight, ‘Maybe you should ex­er­cise,’ you re­ally want to smack that per­son in the face,” she says now. “The truth is, I could not stand up un­aided. Robert didn’t push me. He gen­tly led.”

“She was in pretty bad shape,” Roy says. “Just do­ing daily chores were hard. Her first goal was to be func­tional again, to get through the day with­out any pain.”

That first ex­er­cise ses­sion in Au­gust 2011, Roy had Bergman get up from a sit­ting po­si­tion 12 times, with­out the use of her arms. That was it.

“As she started to feel her mus­cles awak­en­ing, I said, ‘Now you need to fo­cus on a new goal. Some­thing you can mea­sure – and not your weight.’”

Roy sug­gested she sign up for a 5 km race and walk it.

“I thought he was in­sane,” Bergman says, laugh­ing. “But I did it. I came in sec­ond-to­last. The only rea­son I wasn’t last was be­cause the woman be­hind me was nurs­ing her child while car­ry­ing it.”

Three years af­ter that first 5 km, last June, Bergman com­pleted the Mont-trem­blant 70.3 Iron­man in 7:34:14.

Bergman didn’t even know what a triathlon was in Au­gust 2012, a year into her trans­for­ma­tion. Roy per­suaded her to vol­un­teer at the first Mont-trem­blant Iron­man. She ended up at the body-mark­ing sta­tion with Roy’s teenage son Kevin.

“He ex­plained ev­ery­thing to me. He said, ‘It starts with a swim.’”

As she body marked the ath­letes, she en­tered a world she didn’t know ex­isted.

“They were so fit, so happy, so strong. I’d never seen peo­ple like that in my life. It was amaz­ing to watch the elite ath­letes. But what was more amaz­ing to me was to watch nor­mal peo­ple, the ones who came in just a few min­utes be­fore mid­night. That’s what gave me the chills. I said, ‘Let’s give this a try.’”

Get­ting to that goal has taken courage, au­dac­ity, plan­ning and plain old sweaty hard work.

One year ago, Bergman could not swim two lengths of a 20-me­tre pool with her face in the wa­ter. Feel­ing com­fort­able enough in her own skin to wear a bathing suit was a chal­lenge.

“I am 56. I was fat since my early 20s. We live on a river with a mag­nif­i­cent, beau­ti­ful beach, but I was too huge, and I felt too self-con­scious and cum­ber­some. I never went in.”

By 2014, Bergman had com­pleted a few trya-tris and even an Olympic dis­tance triathlon. But her swimming needed work: she would go two strokes head down, then doggy-pad­dle to catch her breath. Learn­ing to swim meant three times a week at the pool with her coach work­ing on tech­nique and en­durance. Then, as soon as the ice melted on Lac Trem­blant, Roy put her in a wet­suit.

“We’re go­ing to swim to that is­land,” he told her. Six weeks of open wa­ter swimming paid off. She swam the 1.9 km on June 21 in just un­der an hour.

Bergman says Roy knows when to push and when to cod­dle. She also says she is blessed with an amaz­ing com­mu­nity of new fit friends in Mont-trem­blant who sup­port and en­cour­age her.

“The first time Roy had me run around a track, oh my good­ness, I thought I’d die,” Bergman says. “But ev­ery­body’s yelling, ‘Go, go, go!’ How can you not want to go?”

Roy says Bergman is, in turn, a bless­ing to oth­ers. It was many months and many lost pounds be­fore he in­vited her to join in a group work­out.

“She was com­ing to get mo­ti­va­tion from the group, but the op­po­site hap­pened: She mo­ti­vated other peo­ple with her pos­i­tive at­ti­tude.”

Roy has no doubt that even­tu­ally Bergman will com­plete that full Iron­man one day – when she’s ready.

“It does take a lot of time,” says Bergman of her rig­or­ous train­ing sched­ule. “But it makes me feel so good and so strong.” She grins. “And so happy.”


Cathy Bergman fin­ishes the 2015 Mont-trem­blant Iron­man 70.3


Bergman with coach Rob Roy at the 2015 Mon­tTrem­blant Iron­man 70.3 fin­ish line


Bergman with her sis­ter Molly at Mont-trem­blant in 2009 when Cathy weighed 315 lb.

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