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From elite hockey goalie to professional Kona qualifier – Jason Pohl’s incredible Ironman journey

Forced out of hockey after lung surgery, Pohl turned to triathlon and has qualified for next year's Ironman World Championship

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

Canadian Jason Pohl heads to this weekend’s Ironman California on quite a roll – he qualified for the Ironman World Championship earlier this year thanks to a fourth-place finish at Ironman Coeur d’Alene. We profiled Pohl in our September issue of the magazine. 

Jason Pohl on a long run. Photo: Jackie Larouche

For many Canadian triathlon fans, his fourth-place finish and Kona-qualifying performance at Ironman Couer d’Alene came as a surprise, but Jason Pohl has been steadily gearing for that impressive performance for almost a decade. Originally an elite-level hockey player – he was a goaltender – he was forced out of that sport at 21 after undergoing major lung surgery. He got into triathlon and worked as a wealth manager for four years. As an age-group triathlete he enjoyed lots of success, qualifying for Kona twice. In 2017 he decided to give up the wealth-management career and focus on becoming a professional triathlete. 

Related: Pohl finishes as top Canadian at Ironman Coeur d’Alene

Originally from Red Deer, Alberta, the 30-year-old has been living in Calgary for the last few years, but spent much of the summer of 2021 training in Canmore, Alb., and Kelowna, B.C. As his career as a professional triathlete has developed over the past few years Pohl has been spending his winters in Boulder, Colo.. 

“It’s a nice routine to escape the Canadian winters,” the 30-year-old says, and is also quick to point out how many good people there are to train with in Boulder. “You show up at some of the Masters swim wokouts and it feels like a full-on race.” 

The performance in Coeur d’Alene validated the hard work Pohl and new coach Ryan Bolton have been doing together.  

“Last year was my first race with him,” Pohl says of working with Bolton. Since they’ve started working together Pohl has finished fifth at Ironman 70.3 Campeche and fourth in Coeur d’Alene – an impressive start. “I finally got my opportunity to showcase the work we’ve been doing.” 

That work includes a lot of training. Bolton believes in high volume training plans, which Pohl appears to be thriving on. He’s hitting 25 to 28 km of swimming every week, along with 15 to 18 hours of cycling and 80 to 100 km of running. These days he’s getting used to six- to eight-hour Saturday rides. 

“For Ironman it’s been great,” Pohl says. “It makes you really efficient, but also really strong.” 

That strength gave Pohl a lot of confidence as he geared up for the race in Couer d’Alene.  

“It was funny going into this race,” he says. “I wanted to race and have a blast out there. We came out with a solid plan – based on the numbers I was pushing, Ryan felt like I was going to have a really good race. I definitely thought I had a top-five in me.” 

No one would have anticipated a race plan that required dealing with temperatures that topped 38 degrees Celsius, though. As Pohl worked his way through the marathon in Couer d’Alene, he suddenly found himself in the hunt for the podium as many of the men ahead, including pre-race favourite Lionel Sanders, started to fade badly.   

Being on that run, it was so dang hot,” Pohl says. “It was a blast being on the hunt.” 

While he just missed the podium, the fourth-place finish in Idaho was enough to earn Pohl a spot at the start line at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. While he’s been there twice before, this time he’ll be competing as a pro.  

It’s been quite a journey for Pohl as he lost one athletic career due to lung surgery, only to replace it with another that requires the ultimate in lungpower. It all seems to be working just fine now, though, and, based on his 2:47 marathon that earned him that fourth-place finish in Couer d’Alene, he’s more than ready for all the heat the Big Island can bring this October.  

Photo: Jackie Larouche

Jason Pohl’s Gear 

Wetsuit:  Synergy Hybrid EFX3 
Goggles: Orca Kila

Frame: Cube Aerium C68 SLT (L)
Components: Shimano Dura Ace
Wheels: Pro Disc , Shimano Dura Ace
Helmet: Lazer Volante
Shoes: Shimano RC9

Shoes: Nike Vaportfly Next % 2

Trisuit: Custom Zoca Gear Triathlon short sleeve suit
Sunglasses: Zizu XZ1