Meet Eva Alexy. At 70, the two-time Kona finisher has completed the gruelling extreme CanadaMan/Woman triathlon in Lac-Mégantic three times, including in 2018 as the cyclist on a mixed relay team with her grown sons, Gabriel Jr. and Viktor. (Viktor’s four-hour performance on the marathon portion of CanadaMan has never been repeated by any triathlete, to date.)
A retired daycare educator from Sherbrooke, Que., Alexy was introduced to triathlon in her 40s by a fellow volunteer ski patroller on Mont Orford. Always eager to try a new sport, as a child Alexy had done everything from gymnastics to orienteering to horseback riding. She met her husband Gabriel on the ski slopes in their native Czechoslovakia when both were in their early 20s. In 1985, with two small children in tow, the pair escaped their country’s Communist regime, slipping into Austria while on holiday in Belgrade. They spent eight months there in a refugee camp before Canada accepted them and their new life in Quebec’s Eastern Townships began.
As a triathlete, Alexy progressed quickly from a try-a-tri to a sprint, to Olympic distance and then a half-Ironman. “I did my first half in Magog, and I didn’t find it that tough,” she recalls. “So people said, ‘You are ready to go the full distance. It’s just one more step!’”
She signed up for Ironman Arizona in 2008, winning the 55 to 59 age group despite taking her sweet time to warm up after emerging hypothermic from the water.
“I had no idea what winning meant, that I had qualified for Kona,” she said. “I was so exhausted after the race, I just went off to bed. I didn’t find out until the next day that I had missed the rolldown.”
It took Alexy another eight years to qualify for Kona again, at Lake Placid in 2016, where she beat everyone in her age group, both male and female. In Hawaii, her time of 15:45 was good enough for third place.
“That was just – wow!” she exclaims. “At Kona, when you are running in the dark and see the lights of the town, all you can think of is, ‘I want this to be over!’ I never believed I would end up on the podium.” She returned to Kona in 2019, finishing in the middle of the pack, nearly done in by the wind but determined to make it to Alii Drive, where her children and grandchildren were waiting for her.
By then, Alexy had two CanadaMan/Woman races under her belt, so she had something to compare to Kona.
“Is Lac-Mégantic worse? It is just different. They’re both hard races.”
Alexy has loads of advice for first time racers of the CanadaMan/Woman race: Plan to stop and get off the bike to eat, she says. The course has no straightaways, and she found it hard on the steep climbs and quick descents to handle her bike and her intake of calories at the same time. In 2017, Alexy says, she didn’t eat or drink enough and ended up cramping.
“The next year, I decided to stop, eat a little, drink a little. It paid off. I was better able to manage the nutrition, and I had a better time on the bike leg.”
Her second tip: throw any goal times out the window.
“You can’t compare this race to anything you’ve done before,” she says. “The swim is the swim. But the bike! There is one climb at around the 75K mark that is so steep, the first time I did it there was a young man ahead of me weaving back and forth across the road, and all I could think of is, ‘Stay out of my way! If I have to stop to avoid you, I am done!’”
Alexy says all this with mirth, shrugging off the fact that last October, she took a two-hour penalty rather than finish the swim, realistic about her tendency to become hypothermic. Organizer Daniel Poirier also diverted Alexy from the trail to the asphalt for the last seven kilometres of the run – a section so steep and treacherous that every athlete who makes the cut-off must be accompanied by a member of their support team.
“Daniel knows me – he didn’t want me to get hurt,” she says. “I told him, ‘I already decided not to do it!’”
Alexy says her secret is to keep perspective. “I train on a human scale,” she says. “I keep my life in balance. I have my garden, and my grandchildren – if they come over, I go, ‘I guess I’ll run tomorrow.’”