Canoe-Kayak Elite Amateur Sport Equestrian

OTTAWA @ PAN AM GAMES: Team Canada athletes Amy Millar, Lina Augaitis, Lynda Kiejko handle challenge of being mothers, quadragenarians

By Martin Cleary

Equestrian show jumper Amy Millar, stand-up paddleboarder Lina Augaitis and pistol shooter Lynda Kiejko compete in totally different sports, are spread out across Canada and/or the United States and have likely never met each other.

But they do have plenty in common.

All three are high-performance athletes and have represented Canada well internationally. All three are more than 40 years old. All three are mothers with young families of two or three children.

All three have connections to Ottawa and area. And all three will represent Canada at the 2023 Pan-American Games, which start Friday and run through Nov. 5 in Santiago, Chile.

Millar, who turned 46 on Valentine’s Day, is the mother of Lily, 13, and Alex, 5. Augaitis, who turns 43 on Thursday, has a boy Tavas, 7, and a girl Aiste, 5. Kiejko, 43, is the mother of Olivia, 9, Faye, 6, and Logan, 4.

While there are many facets to their daily training and competition schedules, Millar, Augaitis and Kiejko have also found their right formulas to balance being an athlete with being a mother and wife as well as dealing with the aging process.

“As you get older, you get smarter and the body is more difficult to manage,” Millar said in a phone interview from Perth, ON., on Wednesday. “When you’re young, the body can do what you want it to do. Now, being smarter, I have to take care of myself.”

She follows her regular physical training schedule, including workouts on her Peloton bike, and rides her horses daily to maintain strength and fitness to guide her horses over challenging jumps and around demanding courses.

“I work out a lot to take care of my back. In our sport, that’s a big deal,” added the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympian, who helped Canada finish fourth in the equestrian show jumping team event.

“Now, if I have a nine-hour flight to a competition site, I have to stretch so my muscles will move and work properly (before riding a horse) to prevent injuries. We don’t have time for injuries.”

Amy Millar. Photo: Canadian Olympic Committee

Millar and family are based in Wellington, Florida, from January to April and the Millar-Brooke Farm in Perth the rest of the year. Outdoor and indoor competitions mean Millar is a regular road runner and often takes Lily and Alex.

Life is always busy and will get a little tricky in 2024-25, when Lily starts high school, but Millar said they “will cross that bridge when we get to it.”

“I work out, I ride and I come home physically tired at the end of a day,” Millar said. “He (Alex) wants to play Zombies and run around for a couple of hours. I wouldn’t change anything, but I look forward to when he gets lower energy.”

Millar will leave shortly to return to Florida and prepare to leave with her horse Truman for the nine-hour flight to Santiago from Miami.

“The little guy Alex will come with me to Florida because he finds it difficult being away from me for more than a week,” said Millar, the daughter of 10-time equestrian Olympian Ian Millar. “The spring and fall are quiet times at home. It gives me time to rest. But this year is particularly busy because of the Pan-Ams.”

Competing outdoors at the end of October and early November also is new for her horse Truman. She didn’t compete much last winter with Truman and picked her spots during the summer campaign so they could be ready for the Pan-Am Games.

“It looks like I did it correctly. Truman is in great form,” said Millar, adding one of her big achievements this year was building a strong stable of talented horses.

When Millar was introduced to Truman as a seven-year-old bay Selle Francais gelding, she needed to teach him everything and “he keeps getting better and is very trainable.”

“Some horses just know how to do things, but he (Truman) had to learn everything,” she added.

Truman has been riding at the top level for about four years and Millar figures the 14-year-old can compete well for another two years.

“He’s better this year than last because he’s so trainable. He wants to impress us and do what we want him to do,” Millar explained.

‘I feel like I do it for them more than me’: paddleboarder Augaitis

Lina Augaitis. Photo: Canadian Olympic Committee

Augaitis was a multi-sport athlete when she grew up in Ottawa, experiencing gymnastics, diving and track and field on her long list of sporting adventures.

After earning her Bachelor degree in physical education from Queen’s University in 2003, she moved to British Columbia, where she got her Masters degree in sport psychology from the University of British Columbia in 2005. At about the same time, she started training for and running triathlons, marathons and adventure races.

In 2010, she accidentally discovered stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) in California and found her athletic calling at age 30. She quickly developed into one of the world’s top female paddlers, winning four medals at three world championships, including gold in the distance race in 2014 and gold in the sprint race in 2016.

When Augaitis and her husband Andrew Dye started their family, she continued training during her pregnancies and after the delivery of Tavas and Aiste. The young children also participated in much of her training around their home in Coldstream, B.C.

As she worked her way through all the trials and tribulations of being a mother of two young children, her dedicated training led her to the 2019 Pan-Am Games in Lima, Peru.

She swept the 2022 Canadian SUP championships, winning all three races – the 18-kilometre distance race, the technical race and the 200-metre sprint – and the overall title. At the 2023 Pan American Surfing Games in Panama, she placed second in the women’s SUP race and qualified for the 2023 Pan-Am Games in Santiago.

In a 2019 interview with Total SUP News, the elementary school teacher talked about the joys and challenges of being an athlete and a mother.

“It is different. I am still very competitive, so it is a mind battle for sure. I want to be there and be on top, but I definitely don’t have the time to train as much as others. I can’t come early to races and so far 95 per cent of my races I have brought a child/baby with me so I can’t really fully concentrate on the race,” she wrote.

“The few races I have done with no kids I am still thinking of them all the time so it’s not the same anymore. The amazing thing is I feel like I do it for them more than me. I feel excited that they get to have a mom who is a successful athlete, for them to have that inspiration and role model.”

Augaitis told Sunova Surfboards in a story on their website she also wants to encourage other moms to pursue their dreams. She does it because she can.

“I am curious what I can achieve in my new life,” she said. “I want to motivate other moms to get out there and get after whatever it is they want to do.

“It is not easy and it requires a community to help, but it is so possible. I am excited to show my kids what it’s like to have goals, to be part of a community, to travel and work as a team to get things done.”

‘If you want to make something work, you find the ways’: shooter Kiejko

Lynda Kiejko. File photo

Lynda Kiejko came by her love of pistol shooting honestly as her late father Rev. Bill Hare of Renfrew competed at the 1964 Tokyo, 1968 Mexico City and 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, earning the nickname of The Pistol-Packing Preacher. Her sister Dorothy Ludwig also is an Olympian, having shot at the 2012 London Summer Games.

Born in Winchester, ON., but living in Calgary, Kiejko represented Canada at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro and 2020 Tokyo Olympics and will be competing in her third Pan-Am Games in Santiago. She won two gold medals in Toronto in 2015 and one bronze in Santo Domingo in 2003.

For the past nine years, Kiejko has been a mom at the same time she has been winning medals and attending major multi-sport Games.

As much as she tries to manage her time well, she usually is able to train and compete because she isn’t afraid to ask for assistance. Her husband Kevin Kiejko always comes to the rescue.

Lynda Kiejko, a civil engineer, told reporter Scott Cruickshank in a 2021 story that Kevin is the “greatest husband of all time.”

When Lynda was pregnant with her first child in 2014, her due date was shortly before the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. But she was steadfast on going to the Games, where she placed fifth in the 10-metre air pistol.

For the 2020 Canadian Olympic trials, she brought three-month-old son Logan. Whenever Logan had an issue, she would step away from the range and solve the problem.

“My parents were that example for me – if you want to make something work, you find the ways. If things don’t turn out the way you want, at least you tried. If things do turn out, even better.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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