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Nathan Killam: Living the best of both worlds

Credit: Alex Felker
Credit: Alex Felker

— By Marcia Jansen

Nathan Killam has the best of both worlds.

He has two jobs; he’s a professional triathlete and a professional firefighter. That doesn’t seem the easiest combination, but the Vancouver resident says he doesn’t want it any other way.

Nathan Killam became a professional triathlete in 2010 and was hired by the Delta Fire Department the same year. When he’s on duty he works two consecutive day shifts of ten hours, followed by two consecutive night shifts of fourteen hours. After that, he has four days off. “It’s a balancing act for sure,” says 30 year old Killam. “But it works for me. Some people say that I should focus on triathlon, that I would go faster, but I love my job as a firefighter. When I am focusing on triathlon alone, it rules my life. Being a fire fighter keeps me grounded.”

Killam and his coach Björn Ossenbrink  figured out a system of training around his shifts that works for him very well. “I don’t have the time to train 30 hours a week, so we choose quality over quantity. When I do a training, it’s more focused on quality. I don’t do a lot of cruising rides. And we pile a lot of training in the days that I’m off. I am forced to maximize my time. I’ve also learned to listen to my body carefully and most of the time we play it by ear. I try to sleep as much as I can between my shifts and when I had a busy day shift or missed out on a lot of sleep in the night shift, Björn adjusts my schedule. It changes a lot.”

Luckily he can trade shifts and get some time off in the summer for training and racing by working more in the off-season. So he had the chance of escaping the rain in Vancouver in the spring and to train a few weeks in Tuscon to prepare for his first race of the season, the Wildflower triathlon. He had a good start in California by finishing sixth, up two places from 2015. After that he was a regular in the top five in several races: fifth at Ironman 70.3 Victoria, fourth at Ironman 70.3 Calgary, second in the Challenge San Gil in Mexico and fourth in the National Long Distance Championship in Penticton. “I would say it’s been a rather successful season for me, with improvements on every course I raced at the past year.”

Except for the ITU World Championship in Oklahoma. “It was super hot and humid that day, I wasn’t prepared for that. Oklahoma was easily my worst race to date. But it was also an incredibly humbling experience, one that I think is important in the development of a successful athlete. But all in all, I am more consistent now than in the past, although I am still waiting for my first big win.  Hopefully that will happen next year.”

For next season Killam has a few goals. “My schedule is still tentative, but I want to do a few Ironman races as I have the ambition to qualify for Kona in 2018. I also want to race in the ITU world championship long distance again. I didn’t qualify automatically, but I love to race in Penticton and I hope I can make it into the Canadian team again. If that doesn’t pans out I probably aim for the Ironman 70.3 world championships in Chattanooga, Tenneessee.”