On the surface it looks like it’s been so easy. Andrew Yorke was Triathlon Magazine Canada’s Junior Athlete of the Year in 2006. Earlier this year we named the Caledon resident our U23 athlete of the year. While the progression seems all-too-logical, in between winning those awards, Yorke came closer to having to quit the sport than taking that next step towards the top of Canada’s Olympic-distance racing.
After winning the junior award (he was also named Triathlon Canada’s Junior Athlete of the Year) Yorke had finished his first year at McMaster University and was competing at the national championships when he was forced to pull out of the race with a series of back spasms. Turns out he had a life-threatening staff infection in his spine which required emergency surgery.
You don’t become the top junior triathlete in Canada unless you are driven, and that drive ended up being a disadvantage for the 22-year-old.
“I came back really quickly [after the surgery] and started setting goals that were outside what I should have. I ended up getting a number of stress fractures and having issues with low iron.”
Now that he’s over those issues, Yorke has been able to utilize the training opportunities available to him at McMaster. He works with McMaster’s competitive swim program and also trains with the cross-country and track teams, too. Canada’s top marathon runner, Reid Coolsaet, also lives in town and has become a regular training partner. Add to that fellow Canadian Cross Training Club team members Taylor Reid and John Rasmussen, and you have the makings of a phenomenal training set up.
“I know that all the national team folks train in Victoria, but McMaster [and Hamilton] is an excellent place to train,” Yorke says. “It’s also out of the spotlight, so I get to do my own thing, too.”
Yorke has also managed to deal with the challenges of balancing school and his training, showing a commitment to his studies that is every bit as determined as his will to compete with the world’s best.
“You have to get in your head that failing is not an option,” he says. “When you go to university, you have to set a higher standard for yourself, you can’t just cruise through. You just have to make time and prioritize. Time management is critical.”
Entering his last year in the U23 category, Yorke is fully prepared to do what it takes to continue his rise towards the upper levels of ITU racing. He’s fully committed to taking on the training that’s required to getting himself to that level – which he envisions will include swimming 50 km every week, biking between 300 and 400 km weekly and, somehow, still managing to run extremely fast.
Yorke’s goal is to get under the 30-minute barrier for 10 km sometime in the next few years. He’s broken 15 minutes for 5 km and, earlier this year, ran an 8:30 for 3 km.
“The way I see it, triathlon is like a marathon,” he says. “You go for two hours and it’s all about the last 10 km.”
A popular guy in the triathlon ranks, Yorke’s easygoing nature belies a fiercely competitive soul. He doesn’t find that he’s feeling any extra pressure despite winning awards like the U23 athlete of the year and having been named to Canada’s national development team this year.
“The bottom line is I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform, so there’s not a lot that people could say on top of that.”
That self-pressure can encourage hard work, but sometimes it can be a hindrance, too. “Something I’ve worked on with the coaches around here is to be more patient and not to be so hard on myself,” he says.
It all seems to be working. With a busy summer of racing ahead, it won’t surprise any of us to see Yorke dominating Canada’s U23 scene once again. Nor will we be surprised to see his continued rise to the next level of Canada’s elite triathlon racing, either.-KM