Manitoba’s triathlon circuit may seem like a long way from the world stage, but for Brandon’s Clayton Heppner it was a direct route.
Heppner is slated to leave for Edmonton today to represent Team Canada in the International Triathlon Union’s World Triathlon Grand Final, the final race in the ITU’s series to crown the world champions.
Each province held a qualifying event last year and Heppner won Manitoba’s race in St. Malo to earn his spot in Edmonton for Friday’s big race.
He waited until the fall before deciding he wanted to race in the Grand Final, a decision that seemed even better when he received his Team Canada suit.
"It’s super-exciting," said the Westman Triumphs member, who will compete in the sprint distance in the 25-29-year-old age group event (Heppner is only 24, but the categories are based on the competitors’ ages at the end of this year).
"It feels really good to be able to race for Team Canada. There’s a lot of pressure, but I’m very excited because there’s going to be competition like you can’t get in Manitoba, just since everyone that’s racing there qualified to get there. They won to get there."
Heppner estimates that only about a quarter of the triathletes in a typical Manitoba event are actually there to race, with most more concerned with simply finishing the race and beating their own best time.
"A hundred per cent of everyone (at the Grand Final) is there to race, which will be really fun," he said. "Hopefully, it will push me past what I’ve ever done before."
Heppner completed the St. Malo sprint course (750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike and 5-km run) in a time of 1:10:37 last year. Since deciding to compete in Edmonton, he’s dedicated himself to training for this week, getting personal coaching from former Brandonite Dan Morwood, who now lives in Kenora, Ont. Heppner slashed his time in the St. Malo event by nearly four minutes this year and the bike specialist hopes to cover the Edmonton course in a little more than an hour.
While there are even higher levels of competition — the Elite Division at the Grand Final is reserved for the pros and Olympic-calibre racers — Heppner is focused simply on doing the best he can as an amateur.
"This is kind of the pinnacle for me. It takes a lot of time; it’s like a three-quarter-time job on the side of working full-time," said Heppner, a part-owner of Stream ‘N’ Wood.
"So I don’t expect to necessarily go much further than this, but this is going to be a highlight for me. I’m at kind of a point in my life where I can look back at all this work I’ve done and this is the reward."
SPLITS: Although she won’t be an official member of the Canadian team, Brandon’s Martine McGregor will also race in the Grand Final after applying and being selected in the event lottery … The Grand Final was held in London last year and will take place in Chicago in 2015.