— By Marcia Jansen

Jessica Tuomela was a successful swimmer in the past and made her debut in the triathlon last year. She found herself a world class guide in Ellen Pennock and will compete with her in the Para Triathlon World Championships this week in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.  

Tuomela and Pennock have been training together in Victoria since July. Thirty-four-year-old Tuomela is a former swimmer from Ontario who competed three times at the Paralympics. Ellen Pennock took a break from competition shortly after the 2015 Pan Am Games, where she placed 6th. The 25 year-old felt burned out physically and mentally at that time, but is planning her comeback at elite racing next season.

Tuomela and Pennock were matched by Carolyn Murray, head coach for the Paratriathlon National Team. “I am coached by Carolyn and she mentioned that Jessica needed a guide”, says Pennock. “Jessica’s goal was to participate in the worlds and for me that’s a nice -reintroduction to the race environment after two years.”

Guided by Pennock, Tuomela finished fourth in the women’s visually impaired race in the Para Triathlon Event in Edmonton and won a gold medal in the duathlon world championships in Penticton. “I am really happy to have Ellen as a guide. We seem to get along pretty well,” Tuomela smiles. “ That is pretty important because I have to trust her 100%, she’s my eyes in the race.”

Tuomela is a rookie in the triathlon sport and Pennock had never ridden a tandem bike before. Tuomela: “We are definitely learning together. It’s not just about about swimming, biking and running fast, a lot comes down to communication.”

Tuomela, who lost her eyesight by retinoblastoma at the age of three, competed at three Paralympics (2000-2008) and earned a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle in Sydney. “After Beijing, I quit swimming, but I wasn’t done with competitive sports. When I was still a swimmer I met some triathletes in the pool and in the back of my mind I always had the idea that I wanted to try a triathlon. I took a long break, but two years ago I started running at a leisure level, but since January this year I am back at serious training.”

Pennock and Tuomela probably won’t be racing together next year, as Pennock wants to make her comeback in ITU racing. “Ultimately I want to get back at elite racing and if that happens I am not allowed to be a guide in the para triathlon anymore. But it’s important to take small steps, I don’t want to rush it.”

Both hope for a good result in Rotterdam. “The bike course is very technical, so that will be a challenge for sure. And we’re competing against women who almost all participated in Rio, so the competition is tough,” says Tuomela. Pennock: “This is our first world championships, so we are underdogs. But Jess makes a lot of progression, so she definitely will be a threat in 2020.”