ELITE PROFILE/PRO KIT
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.