The way Kyla Coates describes it, being a member of Canada’s development team has made her strengths her weaknesses and her weaknesses her strengths.
Coates, one of Canada’s top under-23 triathletes, is more than OK with that because she says there’s always some aspect of her racing she’s looking to improve.
The 21-year-old lives in Victoria where she’s attending university with her twin sister, Alex, and where both train at the National Triathlon Centre (NTC).
“I’m a little bit of an exception,” Coates says of her triathlon situation. An exception? Well, she just happens to be Paula Findlay’s training partner.
Findlay-Triathlon Magazine Canada’s 2010 Triathlete of the Year-is the hottest commodity in the country’s tri scene since a guy named Simon won gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
“While she pushes me more often than I do her, I’m a confidence booster for her,” Coates says of her now good friend. Findlay moved to Victoria from Edmonton this season to train at the NTC. Where Findlay goes, Coates follows.
“Kyla has proved a very effective training partner for Paula, as well as a good friend and room mate on the road,” says Patrick Kelly, senior coach at the NTC, where he oversees the development squad and is Findlay’s coach. This year all four women on Canada’s national team have their own individual coaches.
Every athlete needs other athletes to keep them honest in training. Simon Whitfield has four key training partners, including national team member Kyle Jones, who he identified because of their abilities and their level of commitment.
Coates says that Findlay and her “just clicked” when they started training together. (They first met when both were competitive swimmers in the early teens; Findlay billeted with the Coates’ family during a swim meet in Calgary.)
The key benefit for Coates is that she’s getting an accelerated introduction to racing as one of Canada’s future Olympic hopefuls.
Coates travels to training camps and races with Findlay and is getting a chance to check out the ITU’s World Cup Series courses first hand. The down side is that as athletes from around the world seek points to qualify for the 2012 Games in London, it’s tough for her to get a spot on the starting line. It’s a bit of a “catch-22” – you need a high enough ranking to get a starting spot and yet you need to race to get points to be ranked.
“I get more stressed about whether or not I am racing than racing,” Coates says.
Coates says she’s a “stress case,” but that she’s learning how to cope: “I sleep now before races.”
For athletes looking to follow in her footsteps, Coates has some simple advice.
“Try not to take yourself too seriously, or to think too much about what other people are going to think, or to worry about others looking up your results,” she says.
“Focus on the little things, the little goals and execute. Have things to work on in different aspects of a race,” Coates says, such as a smoother start, cornering on the bike and an efficient bike-to-run transition.
Coates’ introduction to racing at the elite level has been an eye-opener in many ways, she says.
“It shocked me when I first moved [to Victoria]. I really had no comprehension of what real triathletes were doing,” says Coates, who first qualified for the team after the 2009 season. She now trains two to three times a day under Kelly’s direction.
As a sign of her potential as one of Canada’s future triathlon stars, Coates placed eighth at the world junior championships in Australia in 2009 and came third at a Pan American Cup event in Coteau-du-Lac, Quebec in June 2010. It would prove to be her best result of the season.
In her first World Cup Series race in London last July, Coates came out of the swim alongside Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig and ahead of Chile’s Barbara Riveros Diaz, Sweden’s Lisa Norden and Emma Snowsill of Australia. Snowsill is the reigning Olympic champion.
Her task that day: If she lost the leaders in the swim, catch the Spirig express on the bike. Well, that didn’t quite work as planned and Coates found herself in the chase pack until a speed bump put an end to her day.
“When I crashed I didn’t go into the usual panic-shock where you frantically try to jump back into the race while shakily assessing the severity of your wounds,” she wrote on her blog. “Either I went into the other type of shock, where you’re perfectly calm- and time moves really slow and hazily, or else that feeling came from the landing-on-my-head part.”
By the time Coates arrived at the hospital, she knew her collarbone was broken.
“Even though I couldn’t really tell you what year it was, or how old I was, I knew that being broken, alone, in a bathing-suit and bike shoes, without any money, insurance, or the contact info of anybody on the trip, probably wasn’t a good thing.”
Fortunately, the break wasn’t so severe to require surgery. Unfortunately, it took an agonizingly slow four months to heal. Coates returned to full training in January this year and did her first race in March. the Mooloolaba World Cup where she finished a very respectable 26th.
In late April she headed to Arizona for a training camp, after starting the year with three weeks in Maui and then another four weeks in Australia.
Her current life is a far cry from her entry into the sport. At six years of age, Coates and her sister were encouraged to try competitive swimming by next-door neighbours. Before they knew it they were participating in Kids of Steel events.
When they were 11 the Coates’ sisters went to the Alberta Summer Games and won the triathlon event, which “that got us both hooked,” Kyla says.
Now it’s another Summer Games on Coates’ mind: Rio de Janeiro in 2016. After that, all bets are off.
“I plan on sticking with the Olympic team through 2016 and see from there,” Coates says.
Unlike some Olympic distance triathletes who’ve transitioned into half and Iron-distance racing, Coates isn’t inspired by the prospect of racing long. She says she doesn’t see triathlon as a career for her; she wants to have a “real job one day.”
That real job will definitely be linked with sports. Coates is in her fourth year of studying kinesiology at the University of Victoria.