MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s not uncommon for the modern college student to have a study-abroad experience before graduation. It is, however, uncommon for college students to travel the world in hopes of earning a spot to represent their native country at the Olympic Games.
Such is the life of WVU junior cross country and distance runner Sarah-Anne Brault
, whose journey for a spot on the Canadian national triathlon team has included stops to Barbados, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and California, with pit stops to Morgantown here and there as well.
Shortly after completing the 2011 fall semester, the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native headed to Barbados for two months to train with friends for upcoming qualifying races.
“I trained in Barbados for a bit and then came home to Morgantown before I flew out to New Zealand,” she said. “I was there for about a month, then it was off to Australia and Japan before I came back to school for a bit.”
She explained her reasoning for the global travel, seeking a combination of international races to compete in and exposure to varying climates and altitudes - not to mention avoiding the slide down Eighth Street in the middle of January.
“It’s a bit of both racing experience and landscape, but it’s mostly because of the time of year,” she said. “I was in Barbados for those two months because I couldn’t train for a race in Morgantown’s winter weather. I was in New Zealand because part of Team Canada was there. There was a really good training group there and a great training environment. I didn’t plan the training locations that much. I just saw where people were and what worked for me.”
One can only imagine the grueling daily workouts involved between the triathlon events of swimming, biking and running. She brushes it off like it’s no big deal.
“The training schedule changes all the time, but it’s usually swim, bike, then run,” she said. “I’ll run for a bit, and then the swim is usually about 90 minutes. Biking can be anywhere from 90 minutes to three or four hours. I’ll go hard in one area each day and then go steady with the others.
“It sounds intense, but when I’m away training, that’s all I’m doing. It may seem like a lot, but when that’s all you’re doing on top of sleeping and eating, it’s a pretty simple life.”
Yet she wasn’t simply training, sleeping and eating every day. She also took a capstone class during her carousel of countries to continue to work toward her anticipated graduation date of May 2013 with degrees in both economics and finance.
“It’s been hard to stay motivated and focused on school while I’ve been away training,” she said. “I figured it out and I finished it up. I worked out a plan with my professor and he was very helpful and understanding of what I was trying to accomplish.
“A lot of people helped me along the way. He allowed me to come in when I was in town, go see him and go over the material, and I came in later and took the final and wrote a paper. I came in twice during the semester. He re-taught the coursework to me in very short amounts of time and helped me understand.”
Brault explained that the 2012 London Olympics will feature 40 to 45 triathlon competitors, with Canada representing two of those spots.
“One of those is pretty much locked up, but there are three or four of us racing for the second spot,” she said. “I’m not the favorite right now for the other spot, but it’s still awesome to even be in the mix.”
While there is not an official Canadian Olympic trials event for the triathlon, the national team is determined from three core international races.
One occurred last Friday in San Diego at the ITU World Triathlon in which Brault competed in the Elite Women’s division, finishing 19th out of 70 participants with a time of two hours, two minutes and 13 seconds as the first Canadian to cross the finish line. Great Britain’s Helen Jenkins won in 1:58:21.
“There’s the San Diego race and the final one in Madrid,” she said. “I recently competed in the other, but it didn’t go so well for me, so I’m hoping for a better time in Spain. It’s all for fun, though. I’m having a great experience.”
Regardless of whether or not she makes the cut, Brault is grateful for the opportunity and the support received from WVU coach Sean Cleary and others.
“I didn’t expect to be able to do this and I’m still surprised to be a part of it all,” she said. “Coach Cleary has been very supportive of my decision to pursue this, which is why I’m redshirting this season. It’s been a wonderful experience – hard to believe I’m even here.”
London Olympics or not, Brault can at least say she had her own study abroad experiences in places she never thought she would go.