Jordan Bryden isn’t yet a household name, but he’s working hard to make himself noticed on the Canadian triathlon scene. The 23-year-old Calgarian represents the next generation of triathletes whose will try to keep Canada’s ranking high at the international level.
At 195.5 centimetres, or 6’5″, Bryden is also going to be hard to miss, especially in a world often seemingly dominated by athletes with smaller frames. Javier Gomez, who was the most dominant Olympic distance triathlete ahead of the Beijing Games, stands 178 cm – the same height as Simon Whitfield. Alistair Brownlee, who won all five ITU races he entered in 2009, including the world championship, is 176 cm tall.
“I like to draw strength from those who were told they couldn’t make it, and proved everyone wrong. I love the fact that I used to be told, countless times, that a 6’5” athlete would never be able to condition himself to the point where he could outrun those with a more gifted body-type.
“I haven’t heard that comment since (Germany’s Jan) Frodeno, also 6’5″, won the sprint for gold in the 2008 (Olympic) Games. Matt Reed (of the U.S.A.) is another great example.” Reed is also 6’5″.
Bryden is keen to be remembered not simply for his stature, though. He has far higher expectations. “Racing in the 2012 Olympic Games has been my dream since I was 14 years old. It has been my focus for over a decade. I know I have the drive and ability to make it to the Games. I have raced over 150 triathlons and have been competing internationally for the past five years. I feel I have a good shot at making the team. I just need to constantly adjust my focus to do so.
“I personally feel I have the ability to perform as one of the top athletes in the world within the next few years, and I can then use that podium to change the world for the better with programs like Right to Play.”
Bryden says he believes that he has “the ability to compete in 2012 and podium in 2016.” The 2012 Games will be held in London, with the 2016 Games set for Rio de Janiero.
While driven by an Olympic dream now, Bryden’s entry into the sport at the age of 10 was guided by a far more modest objective. His father helped him train for his first race, the Calgary Kids of Steel, in 1996.
“We swam, rode, and ran together a bit each day for about six weeks before the big race. I had to swim 50 metres of the 100-metre swim on my back, and then got on my mountain bike. I believe I placed around 33rd of the 70 or so kids, but I had one of the fastest runs of the day.
“I was so in awe at the finisher medal, and having my family so excited,” says Bryden. “My parents (Rob and Heidi) encouraged my involvement in sport and have made numerous sacrifices just to keep me competing since then.” His girlfriend, Madi, is also a huge supporter.
Bryden says his approach to the sport is a reflection of what his dad taught him: “I don’t need to aim at the target – I need to aim at the bullseye.”
While based in Calgary, Bryden is on the road a lot, racing on both the ITU and Xterra circuits. “In ITU races, having a great swim is crucial, followed by an interval bike workout and an all-out 10 km. In Xterra, the swim is important, but your ability to ride smooth lines efficiently is crucial. If you struggle with the technical skills of mountain biking, your legs will feel like cement by the time you hit the trails. I like ITU racing for its purely competitive nature and Xterra for the personal struggles you face during the race.”
In the second half of 2010, he plans to compete at two more Xterra USA Championships races as well as the Coteau-du-Lac and San Francisco Pan Am Cup races. Closer to home he is looking forward to the Canadian National Championships in Kelowna. He’s also planning to race the Xterra Canadian Nationals in Whistler, USA Xterra Champs, the Huatulco World Cup and the Xterra World Championships.
“My race season this year is based around posting more consistent results, no matter what race I am in. I am looking to finish the season in shape to compete in the ITU World Championship Series next year and to be seen as a Top-10 contender at the Xterra Worlds,” Bryden says.
Bryden relies on three coaches for guidance: Dave Johnson, Steve Adams and Cal Zaryski. “When I turned 19 and started racing as an elite, I lost my focus a bit. It was pretty intimidating for me to enter my first world cup and toe the line with Peter Robertson on one side of me and Hunter Kemper on the other. It took me until last winter to find my ability to focus on the positives in all situations again. If I do make it to the Olympics, or even an Olympic qualifying race, I know I won’t back down from the challenge.”
Bryden has made some big changes for the current season. “For the first time, I decided not to compete in the pool, and instead focused my energy into becoming a better runner.” In addition, he opted to spend part of last winter in Florida to avoid the cold and also “get away from the distractions that hold you back from proper training and recovery.”
Bryden also has been working hard to overcome a major hurdle for most amateur athletes – funding. “I feel that most corporations can benefit from partnering with a development athlete. It is a positive image for a company and creates a positive atmosphere for both the athlete and the company as long as the athlete realizes that this is their job.” Tri-It Multisport, owned by Rose Serpico and Brian DelCastilho, is his biggest corporate advocate at the moment.
“Success is a tricky thing,” Bryden says. “Time improvements are always an easy indicator, but do not always truly reflect what it takes to be a successful triathlete. I feel that the ability to overcome obstacles, to maintain confidence and to push through adversity are key contributors to becoming one of the best athletes in the world. I know that when I fully learn to “aim at the bullseye and not just the target” I will be successful, not just in sport, but also in life.”
Timothy Moore is a freelance journalist from Squamish, B.C.