RECENTRESEARCH SUGGESTS that parents hoping to raise the next Clara Hughes or Sydney Crosby should expose their children to a wide variety of sports rather than just focusing on one. It seems children who play a variety of sports develop better social and motor skills and enjoy them more than kids who are focused on just one. Duane Foley’s parents were probably unaware of these benefits while raising him in the ’80s, but by providing him with a wide range of sports experiences, he’s become an exceptional age-group triathlete 30 years later.
Growing up in Coquitlam, B.C. in the ’80s, Foley took part in BMX, baseball, snowboarding and curling. That exposure to a variety of sports developed his lifelong passion for athletics, Foley says. After high school, he stayed somewhat active, but the birth of his son renewed his desire to compete. After coaching his son in basketball and baseball, he began playing those sports again.
Foley first heard about triathlon when a neighbour asked if he wanted to do one. He quickly dismissed the idea, but his wife persuaded him to reconsider. Two months of training later, he entered his first race. Like many adult triathletes who didn’t swim as kids, Foley found himself in a sea of self-doubt ten minutes into the race.
“I did everything I could to survive. While floating on my back to rest so I could continue swimming, I thought to myself ‘this is the shortest part of the race and it could be a very long day,’” Foley says. The tide turned after he completed the swim. Foley had a strong bike and an impressive 41-minute run split, informing his competition that if he could learn to swim faster, he’d be a formidable competitor.
Despite his encouraging debut, Foley said he lacked the confidence to reach for the podium in his early races. Again, his wife motivated him to strive for more. She said, “don’t sell yourself short, you’re actually better than you think.”
Over the following seasons, he made steady progress. Foley’s breakthrough race came in 2014, when he won his age group at the Cultus Lake Triathlon, placing 10th overall. He attributes the result to swimming more in the off-season and hiring Anthony Toth as his coach. Even though he still is not a front-pack swimmer, the time he loses in the water is made up on the bike and run. Toth contributed to his success by emphasizing a quality over quantity approach to training. By logging less miles, focusing on strong biomechanics and following specific training intensities, Foley has suffered few injuries. As a result, he’s been able to train consistently over the months and years leading to progressive improvement and age-group dominance.
Another factor Foley attributes to maintaining training consistency is his job as a firefighter.
“By working four days on and four days off, I can spend time with my family, get chores done and complete all my workouts. And training for triathlon also keeps me in shape for my job,” he says.
Foley has been in the sport nine years and, like many triathletes, he’s had some bad races. Unfortunately, one was at last year’s ITU longcourse world championships in Penticton. Suffering from dehydration, he walked the last five kilometres. While walking, he felt like he was disappointing the friends and family who were there to support him. Upon reflection, he considers those five kilometres a learning experience for what is important about triathlon and life.
“It was gratifying to have competitors offering me support to get to the finish line. Camaraderie in our sport is unbeatable. I also found out at the end of the day the people around you still love you. It doesn’t matter what happens on the race course.”
With a promising start by winning the 40–44 age group at Westwood Lake in May 2018, Foley’s goals for the rest of this season are to stay focused and healthy and in front of as many “young guns” as possible. Beyond this year, he plans to race for as long as he can and, when the day comes he can’t compete, he still wants to be part of the sport because of the social connections he’s developed. Foley sees himself on the sidelines, cheering people to the finish line, much like others have cheered for him. By modeling this positive attitude to his children and his fellow competitors, Foley will no doubt inspire a future generation of healthy and active people.
ABOVE Duane Foley racing in 2017 at the ITU Long Distance World Championships in Penticton