Event: Women’s Race & Mixed Relay
Residence: Carp/Boulder, Colorado
Local Club: Bytown Storm
By Martin Cleary
OLYMPIC BOUND: Joanna Brown is in constant motion. One of Canada’s top triathletes, it’s a given as she swims, cycles and runs. But to participate in her 86 career international races, she has had to travel to 17 nations.
Criss-crossing around the world, scrambling through airports and, don’t forget, continuous training over the past 13 years also has put a lot of miles on this elite Carp, ON., athlete, as well as many miles on an air travel card.
But her last two trips, which are memorable for totally opposite reasons, and the latest trip that will take her to her first Summer Olympic Games later this month in Tokyo, will all rank high on her list of athletic journeys.
On the heels of a successful 2019 World Triathlon Series season including a bronze medal in Bermuda, a fifth at the world mixed relay championships and racing on the Tokyo triathlon Olympic course, the COVID-19 pandemic landed with a thud.
Brown was living in the United Kingdom, when everything started to tighten up and Canada told its citizens to come home. The Olympics were postponed. Triathlon competitions were cancelled. Brown retreated to rejoin her family in Carp.
She spent two months in the rural community on the western edge of Ottawa “watching the world react and how things were unfolding,” recounts the 28-year-old. But when Brown had had enough of being locked down, she decided to escape.
Brown flew to Seattle and met an American triathlete friend. They decided to become vagabonds and see the world from a completely different perspective.
“We wanted to get away from the world,” Brown said in a telephone interview. “It was hard with all the competitions being cancelled and the Olympics being postponed.”
Brown and her friend lived in an RV van and travelled the West Coast of the United States. They had an awesome time with “no electricity, no water, out in nature and away from noise,” according to Brown.
“It was definitely the experience of a lifetime,” she added. “We were unplugged out in the forest with no worries or schedules. The world was falling apart, but it was nice to get away. It was refreshing.”
In the spring of 2021, Brown started to rebuild her life as a triathlete and travel again. Competing for the first time in almost 21 months on May 13, she placed 13th in the World Triathlon Championship Series race in Yokohama, Japan.
The good result wasn’t the only memory Brown carried from that eventful race. Before the race, she fractured her nose and after the race a kidney infection was starting to turn nasty as she prepared to fly to the next meet in Lisbon.
“The kidney infection was a lot more severe after the race. I had a super bad fever and was in hospital in Portugal,” said Brown, who had the full support of Triathlon Canada officials in Lisbon and in Canada.
“I’ve definitely recovered … it wasn’t ideal for a build up (to the Olympics). Training for the next seven weeks taking antibiotics wasn’t ideal, but I fought back well,” said Brown, who apologized to teammates for missing the key race.
Brown meant to race with the Canadian team to try to qualify for the mixed relay race at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Despite the team withdrawal, Canada qualified because its top two men and top two women were highly ranked as individuals.
The trip to the Tokyo Olympics for her first Summer Games has been much anticipated by Brown. She hopes the strict health and safety protocols in Japan will keep her and her peers in a positive environment before their races.
“I have been waiting to compete (in the Olympics) since the day I started triathlon,” said Brown, the 2010 world junior championship and 2012 world U23 championship bronze medallist. “It has always been my goal to compete in the Olympics.
“When I was with coach Greg Kealey (Bytown Storm Triathlon), it was something I dreamed of. When I was with Craig Taylor (Guelph triathlon coach), it was something that pushed me through every session.”
Entering the Olympics, Brown, who didn’t qualify for the 2016 Olympics as she missed the entire 2015 season, is ranked No. 29 in the women’s individual competition and has helped Canada achieve a No. 9 ranking in the mixed relay classification.
“I definitely feel ready, ready for what it brings. I feel relaxed and I’m excited to see what Tokyo is like,” she added. “I’m excited to see what happens. I’ve put in hard work and it’s time to get out there and see it pay off.”