Those heady days when she was the up and coming phenom that seemed destined for Olympic greatness are almost a decade behind us, but for Paula Findlay it’s hasn’t seemed that long. We’re chatting outside One Daytona, the hotel where many of the over 100 athletes from around the world were staying for the PTO 2020 Championship at Challenge Daytona. While Findlay’s Olympic dream might have been put on the back burner, it hardly means her talent and drive isn’t likely to take her to amazing heights – something her big win at what was arguably the biggest race of 2020 showed.
“I still raced, I still won races in between 2010 and now, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t doing anything, but on this big a scale, it was quite a long time. I don’t think I’m a different athlete necessarily, I’m still the same person. I’ve just grown up a little bit, learned a lot through the sport and life in general. It’s not a different me, but an improved me – especially mentally. I’ve learned a lot to deal with setbacks.”
“This year’s really highlighted taking pressure and stress off myself. That ultimately leads to more consistent training and being healthy and racing well. For the last 10 years I’ve tried to live up to the expectation I put on myself from my results in 2010. Maybe I was unrealistic and I rushed it – I was constantly operating at this stress level that was really high.”
Findlay has moved on from the controversy that surrounded her struggles at the 2012 Olympics, where she competed despite being injured.
“I don’t blame anyone else for what happened and, honestly, it was so long ago that I don’t love talking about that. I don’t know, there was a lot going on that even I didn’t know about … but I was the one who was driving to race and to train hard and keep winning races. That’s my personality and that’s why I was so successful, but then it can also be a downfall when you go too far. That was probably the mistake I made back then, but again, I had to go through that to learn and to have this kind of a race 10 years later.”
Findlay credits her partner Eric Lagerstrom for helping her stay in the sport.
“I definitely wouldn’t be doing triathlon still if it weren’t for Eric. I didn’t even want to come to this race if he wasn’t coming with me. He is there every day to train with and is obviously stronger and faster than me, so he gives me something to push for and to try and keep up with on certain workouts. Having him is a game changer for me – I would not be interested in still racing if he weren’t part of the game with me. He makes it fun. We have a sweet life – we travel in the van and we have a dog now. I just feel a lot more like a normal human this year, but I can still have a great performance even though I sort of stepped back my super-high-performance mentality this year. Obviously, Eric’s a huge part of this result.”
“I guess Eric’s brought some balance in my life. Before I was single and living in Boulder where everything in your life is surrounded by triathlon. It’s definitely brought a bit more awareness. But, at the same time, he treats it like a job – I never have really. I just wanted to win races and wasn’t very good at the sponsor side of things. Eric is very professional about it – we have a YouTube channel and he’s very aware of the social media side of things and that’s helped us enormously this year. Being relevant – if you want to make a living at it you have to be good at that stuff, just as much as you have to be good at racing. I think we make a good team in that sense.”
The win in Florida appears to have confirmed to Findlay exactly what those of us in the sport have felt for years – that she can compete with the world’s best.
“In my mind, going into this race, if I was going to have a shot at the podium, it was going to be in a battle with 10 girls going head to head, kind of like the men’s race was. So, I never imagined I would be running solo, in front, three-minutes ahead – that was crazy. It was not the race I was expecting in any way.”
“I’ve wanted to target the podium at the 70.3 world championships the last couple of years. That wasn’t really in my wheelhouse the last two years, but after this race I feel like it could be a realistic goal.”
You think? It’s been a long time coming, but like all great champions, Paula Findlay managed to make the best of what has been a tough year for so many and figure out how to get the best out of herself. Which, at the PTO 2020 Championship, was more than enough to win the year’s biggest race.
This story appears in the January, 2020 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.