30 Years of Triathlon in Que­bec

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - DEPARTMENTS - BY LOREEN PINDERA

DO­MINIQUE PICHÉ STOOD on the beach of Lac des Sables in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, nes­tled in Que­bec’s Lau­ren­tian moun­tains. The mu­sic was blast­ing “like we were all at a dis­cotheque,” Piché re­mem­bered. The an­nouncer was revving up the crowd.

“The en­ergy at the fin­ish line – I re­mem­ber that like it was yes­ter­day,” Piché re­called.

It was 1993, and triathlon was, at best, a mar­ginal sport in Que­bec. The Sainte-Agathe long-dis­tance race was only the sec­ond triathlon Piché had ever par­tic­i­pated in – he’d come out of the wa­ter dead last in his first, a sprint at Oka Beach, but he was hooked.

Nearly two decades later, Piché would go on to es­tab­lish Iron­man Mont-Trem­blant, now a bucket-list event on the world triathlon stage. He cred­its the founder and di­rec­tor of

that race in Sainte-Agathe, Louis Tur­cotte, for show­ing him what it takes to cre­ate a re­ally great event, one that could at­tract world-class ath­letes like Peter Reid, Pierre Lavoie and first-timers alike.

“We al­ways need to re­mem­ber where we come from. And for me, we come from the Louis Tur­cotte school of triathlon in Que­bec,” said Piché.

Tur­cotte had tears in his eyes when he was called to the stage at Triathlon Que­bec’s 30th an­niver­sary gala in Novem­ber to share, with

two-time Olympian Kathy Trem­blay, the hon­our of be­com­ing the first two in­ductees into the Que­bec Triathlon Hall of Fame.

Be­ing named one of the sport’s great­est builders came as a to­tal sur­prise.

“I started rac­ing triathlons in the 1980s,” he told me. “I went down to Lake Placid and did a cou­ple of half-Iron­man races. There were no long-dis­tances races at all in Que­bec in those days, so I de­cided to start one.”

Tur­cotte launched Spor­triple, the first triathlon race se­ries in Que­bec, in 1990.

“Ev­ery week­end, you could find an event, ei­ther a duathlon or a triathlon, some­where in the province,” Piché re­called. “Louis of­fered spe­cial pack­ages for re­turn­ing ath­letes, if they wanted to do two or three races in a sea­son.”

“He was so far ahead of his time. His events served as a tram­po­line for the de­vel­op­ment of clubs and ath­letes who are still ac­tive in Que­bec af­ter more than 30 years,” he added.

The Sainte-Agathe race is no more (Tur­cotte wrapped it up in 2015 on its 25th an­niver­sary), but the sport he helped build in ev­ery cor­ner of the province, from Sague­nay to Lac-Beau­port to Mont Habi­tant, is thriv­ing.

In 2018, 46,500 ath­letes par­tic­i­pated in a triathlon or duathlon, Xterra event or win­ter mul­tisport race some­where in Que­bec. Of those, 17,700 of them were chil­dren who took part in one of the 62 “triathlon sco­laires”

at ele­men­tary and high schools across the province. Triathlon Que­bec of­fers its or­ga­ni­za­tional and tech­ni­cal sup­port for free, com­plete with vol­un­teer of­fi­cials and – in the case of schools in dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas where many kids don’t own bi­cy­cles – a fleet of bikes that are left at the school for a term, so par­tic­i­pants can learn how to ride them.

“We know it’s an ex­pen­sive sport,” said Benoit-Hugo St-Pierre, Triathlon Que­bec’s charis­matic pres­i­dent who, at 41, has been in­volved with the de­vel­op­ment of the sport in one way or an­other since he first joined the board at 18. “How can we de­moc­ra­tize the sport? How can we make it more ac­ces­si­ble?”

These are the ques­tions Triathlon Que­bec is ask­ing as it looks to build on the foun­da­tion it’s cre­ated over its first 30 years.

“The ob­jec­tive is to reach 50,000,” said St-Pierre. One way to do that is sim­ply sto­ry­telling: “to in­spire peo­ple to make a start. To de­cide to do one event, to get on any old bike and put on a pair of sneak­ers,” he said.

He loves to share his own story of how he met his fu­ture wife, Is­abelle Gagnon, at the Lac Beau­port triathlon in 1999. He was “an or­di­nary age-group ath­lete” de­ter­mined to get bet­ter, and she was an elite triath­lete. St-Pierre fol­lowed Gagnon to a train­ing camp she of­fered in Florida the next year, and af­ter a pair of twin daugh­ters, now 11, the rest is his­tory.

As I’ve dis­cov­ered writ­ing this col­umn about age-group triath­letes over the past four years, ev­ery triath­lete does, in­deed, have a story to tell.

Take Lise Dubé, who fol­lowed her daugh­ter into triathlon train­ing in Coteau-du-Lac, off the west­ern tip of Mon­treal, in the early 2000s. A bad cy­cling accident in 2009 put her in the hos­pi­tal for three months and ended her days com­pet­ing as a duath­lete.

“I de­cided to get in­volved as an of­fi­cial. It was a way to still be at the com­pe­ti­tions and to keep see­ing all my friends,” Dubé told me. “One thing led to an­other, and I be­came a pro­vin­cial of­fi­cial, then a na­tional of­fi­cial.”

Like Do­minique Piché, who brought Iron­man to Mont-Trem­blant in 2012, Dubé was named one of Triathlon Que­bec’s 30 am­bas­sadors of the sport for the 30th an­niver­sary gala cel­e­bra­tion.

Piché of­ten talks about how the sport could not ex­ist with­out vol­un­teers, and Dubé ex­em­pli­fies that: she vol­un­teers her time as an of­fi­cial at ev­ery level, from school triathlons in her re­gion to ITU events. She of­fi­ci­ated at two world cham­pi­onships, in Ed­mon­ton in 2014 and in Chicago in 2015.

Dubé’s daugh­ter long ago de­cided to fo­cus on speed­skat­ing and no longer com­petes in triathlons, but Dubé has no qualms about stay­ing in­volved.

“You’ve got to love the sport,” she said with a shrug. “And I love the sport. I love see­ing the fam­i­lies to­gether. You see both par­ents com­pet­ing, their kids com­pet­ing. That’s what hap­pened in our fam­ily. It be­comes a way of life.”

Loreen Pindera is a triath­lete from Mon­treal. When she’s not train­ing and rac­ing, she works as a pro­ducer at CBC.

Triathlon ABOVE Que­bec Pres­i­dent Benoit-Hugo St-Pierre (left), next to WTS Mon­treal Di­rec­tor Pa­trice Brunet (right) OP­PO­SITE Louis Tur­cotte (right) with Iron­man Mont Trem­blant Race Di­rec­tor Do­minique Piché (left)

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