At 19, James Cook ignored some of the key wisdoms those in the triathlon community had to offer.
He wanted to do Ironman Canada, and he did it.
It’s a major accomplishment, but not one that’s recommended for triathletes until they near that magical age of 30.
Four years later, the 23-year-old is on the cusp of becoming an elite pro in the Olympic distance. He’s been training like a pro for over a year, and is deeply invested in competing for money on the International Triathlon Union circuit, awaiting his approval for the Kelowna ITU on Aug. 19. Race organizers will overlook his recent results to see if he is worthy of the “elite” status that goes with being a pro.
If he’s approved, it’ll be his first pro race.
Cook was never on the ITU junior scene, and does not have the benefit of coming through Canada’s successful national triathlon centre, based here in Victoria.
Instead, he’s trying to enter the world stage through the side door.
Cook continued his strong run on the amateur circuit on Sunday when he finished sixth overall at the Peach City Classic Triathlon in Penticton, a return home for the Summerland product who now lives in Saanich.
“Growing up in the Okanagan, (Ironman) was the only exposure to triathlon I knew and that was my goal,” Cook said.
“At the time I was young and naive, but I’m really glad I did it. I don’t have any regrets about (that race), I just wish I’d moved into the short distances earlier.”
While Ironman is famous for its gruelling 3.8-kilometre swim, 180-km bike and marathon run of 42-km, the Olympic (1.5-km swim, 40-km bike and 10-km run) and sprint (half the Olympic) distances are no small feat, as the tempo is faster.
And speed is one of the key reasons elite coaches in the triathlon community recommend sticking with sprint and Olympic distances until athletes near the age of 30. Until then the body is still developing, and though it can recover well, it’s believed there is an increased likelihood for injuries.
Cook relocated here to study kinesiology at the University of Victoria and never left. He now balances his triathlon training with his job in occupational health and safety with Vancouver Island Health Authority.
Last year he boosted his training regimen and it’s not only been exhausting, but it’s also a learning experience. Cook’s coach, Jairus Streight, is just two years Cook’s senior. Streight, unlike Cook, is an accomplished athlete from the ITU junior circuit who has since taken up coaching.
“Streight has a great knowledge of the sport already, but yeah, he’s also learning it on the way, and we’re learning together,” Cook said.
The results are proof enough.
Cook finished second at the Shawnigan Lake Triathlon in May and fourth at the Victoria Triathlon on June 17, a pair of Subaru Western Triathlon Series races with pretty competitive fields.
“I’m a completely different athlete from last year. And although I was disappointed with sixth place at the Peach Classic, I was 25th at that race last year, so I’m happy with the overall picture.”
While Cook is awaiting to hear about his Kelowna triathlon approval, he’s also awaiting word on whether or not he’ll be going through the eight-month application process for medical school.
The aspiring doctor still has plenty of triathlon years ahead of him, but the comittment to medical school could mean the difference between Cook competing for a national championship one day, or not.
In the meantime, he loves the science of his sport and will continue competing and training at full throttle.
“Right now Jairus and I are just trying to analyze if I did too heavy of a training block prior to the Peach Classic.
“I was good in the swim, but had a rough bike. The legs just weren’t there.”
Cook will continue racing as amateur status in the sprint distance of the Sooke Triathlon on Aug. 12, a tune-up for Kelowna, as well as the Subaru triathlon series in Banff on Sept. 8 and the New Zealand ITU in October.