Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - BY LOREEN PINDERA

LAKE MICHI­GAN CHURNED like an an­gry sea early on the morn­ing of the Chicago ITU World Triathlon Grand Fi­nal last Septem­ber – cold, grey and choppy. The wind qui­eted just min­utes be­fore the horn sounded for the women in the 20–24 age group. But even with the calmer con­di­tions, Séverine Bouchez didn’t have a good start and, 400 me­tres in, she found her­self be­ing knocked around, strug­gling to get ahead of the pack. At last she pulled ahead, cer­tain she was still far be­hind the lead­ers. She couldn’t quite be­lieve it when she made it out of the wa­ter in 9th place.

Two days ear­lier, Bouchez, 21, had cleaned up in the sprint at the worlds, cross­ing the fin­ish line two min­utes ahead of the se­cond-place woman to de­fend her 2014 world ti­tle.

The ic­ing on the cake? This time, she was the fastest woman in the en­tire field.

Bouchez’s goal in Chicago was dou­ble-gold. Cy­cling is her strong suit and, in that se­cond race, she ped­alled past the eight women who had come out ahead of her in the wa­ter.

“Then I made a begin­ner’s mis­take,” she re­called. “I couldn’t find my place in tran­si­tion, be­cause I had my sprint race num­ber stuck in my head.”

De­spite the pre­cious sec­onds lost in tran­si­tion and a blis­ter that plagued her in the run, Bouchez re­turned home to Que­bec with two gold medals.

Séverine Bouchez dis­cov­ered triathlon by ac­ci­dent. In 2010, at 15, she was on the side­lines watch­ing her younger brother race, and it looked like fun. She signed up for a try-a-tri in Joli­ette, near her home­town of St-am­broise-de-kil­dare – a small farm­ing town north of Mon­treal. “I caught the bug,” Bouchez said. She did not have a coach nor a train­ing plan. “When I got up in the morn­ing and felt like bik­ing, off I’d go,” she said. But her solo work and her de­ter­mi­na­tion were enough to earn her the Coupe du Québec, the top place in her age group in 2012. A year later, just days be­fore her 19th birth­day, Bouchez was at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Fi­nal in Lon­don, rid­ing a heavy alu­minum road bike that was too big for her.

“It was the one they had in the store; and all I could af­ford,” she said. “When I bought it, I never imag­ined I would qual­ify for the world cham­pi­onships.”

Bouchez fin­ished 10th in the sprint event in Lon­don. Two days later, she came fourth in the Olympic dis­tance.

“That’s when I re­al­ized I might re­ally have po­ten­tial in triathlon,” she said. She set her sights on the 2014 Worlds in Ed­mon­ton. Bouchez com­peted in all three events, win­ning gold in the sprint, sil­ver in the aquathon and bronze in the Olympic dis­tance.

By then, Bouchez had a coach – and a man­age­ment plan. Stéphane Cler­mont is a for­mer elite cy­clist turned ki­ne­si­ol­o­gist. Not long be­fore the 2013 ITU Grand Fi­nal, the man­ager of a lo­cal bike shop in the Lanaudière re­gion where they both live told Cler­mont that Bouchez had come knock­ing, look­ing for a spon­sor to help her get to Lon­don.

“It’s a hit-and-miss way of get­ting spon­sor­ship, go­ing door-to-door like that – not very ef­fi­cient,” Cler­mont said. He had a bet­ter idea. He had just set up Totem Man­age­ment, a non-profit agency mod­elled on B2ten, a pri­vate foun­da­tion that pro­vides train­ing and fi­nan­cial sup­port to Cana­dian ath­letes with Olympic po­ten­tial. Totem aims to help promis­ing young ath­letes from Lanaudière move up in their sport.

Bouchez “fits per­fectly with the phi­los­o­phy of Totem, which is to of­fer op­ti­mal con­di­tions for the de­vel­op­ment of ath­letes who would oth­er­wise fly un­der the radar,” Cler­mont said. “We have a world cham­pion liv­ing and train­ing in the re­gion, and no­body knows it. I ask po­ten­tial spon­sors, ‘Do you think that’s right that an ath­lete like Séverine is train­ing with­out any help?’ They see that they have to do some­thing.”

Bouchez’s ma­jor spon­sor is Les En­treprises Ré­jean Goyette, a real es­tate de­vel­oper who has set her up with a state-of-the-art gym in a new med­i­cal of­fice block. The com­pany also helps de­fray her equip­ment costs, train­ing and travel ex­penses.

“This is an in­vest­ment in the com­mu­nity, and there is a pay­off: Look how much Séverine has im­proved in the past two years.”

The ques­tion now is whether Bouchez can trans­late her suc­cess as an age-grouper into points on the elite cir­cuit. She’s been wedg­ing her train­ing into a hec­tic sched­ule as she stud­ies oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy at Laval Univer­sity in Que­bec City. She swims end­less lengths three or four times a week in the univer­sity pool.

Un­like many elite triath­letes, Bouchez has no back­ground in swim­ming and al­though her speed and tech­nique have im­proved re­mark­ably over the past three years, she is re­al­is­tic.

“In age-group rac­ing, even if you are not an ex­cel­lent swim­mer, you can make up for it in the bike and the run,” Bouchez said. “But in elite rac­ing, if you are not among the best in the wa­ter, you don’t have much chance…no mat­ter how strong a rider you are, it’s hard to be faster than a good pelo­ton of 20 rid­ers rid­ing ahead of you. It’s hard to catch up.” She in­tends to try. Over the Christ­mas break, Bouchez trained with Que­bec’s U23 de­vel­op­ment team, in­clud­ing Emy Le­gault and Xavier Gre­nier-talav­era, un­der Que­bec pro­vin­cial coach Kyla Rollinson. Rollinson agrees with Bouchez’s own as­sess­ment of her po­ten­tial. “If Séverine were a chase pack swim­mer, then I think she’d prob­a­bly be able to fin­ish top-10 or top-15 in the elite races,” Rollinson said. “She is just on the edge. And it’s not an easy thing to move from ‘on the edge’ to the nu­cleus of elite rac­ing.”

Gwen Jor­gen­son is Séverine Bouchez’s role model. The 2014 and 2015 ITU World Se­ries cham­pion com­peted in one of her first in­ter­na­tional races at Coteau du Lac in Que­bec in 2010, com­ing out of the wa­ter well back in the field and fight­ing her way to fifth. “Gwen Jor­gensen is proof that it can be done,” Bouchez said. This month Bouchez will test her de­ter­mi­na­tion on the CAMTRI cir­cuit, head­ing to Florida with the Que­bec elite team to race in Cler­mont and Sara­sota. Rollinson isn’t count­ing her out. “Séverine is very coura­geous. She works very hard. She wants this, and she be­lieves in what she is do­ing – and that could make all the dif­fer­ence.”

Loreen Pindera is a pro­ducer at CBC Ra­dio and an avid triath­lete from Mon­treal.

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