Island athletes Kirsten Sweetland and Catharine Pendrel will head into the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics with compelling backstories and each with something to prove on the biggest stage.
They were among the athletes selected as the Canadian triathlon and cycling teams for Rio were officially named Wednesday following the two-year qualification period for both sports.
This is the culmination of a long-held dream for Victoria’s Sweetland, the 2006 world junior champion, who was held out of the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics because of injuries and illness and then battled through much of the same in this quadrennial to finally become an Olympian at age 27.
“This means everything to me,” the Stelly’s Secondary graduate said in a statement.
“It’s so much sweeter after the struggles I have had over the last 10 years to get here. After facing an unimaginable amount of health issues, I never lost sight of my dream. To say it’s been tough would be an understatement. But I have never been happier.”
The breakthrough for Sweetland came with her silver medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Jonathan Hall of Victoria, the high-performance director for Triathlon Canada, said the five-athlete Rio-bound Canadian team was “fiercely dedicated.”
All five are rookie Olympians, including Sweetland, Sarah-Anne Brault of Quebec City, Amelie Kretz of Blainville, Que., Andrew Yorke of Caledon East, Ont., and Tyler Mislawchuk of Oak Bluff, Man.
Despite her two world championships in mountain biking, and Commonwealth and Pan Am Games gold medals, Pendrel has never won an Olympic medal after placing fourth at Beijing in 2008 and ninth at London in 2012.
A celebration is planned on Bear Mountain, where the Canadian team is based, if Pendrel finally reaches the Olympic podium at Rio.
“I am really excited to represent Canada for a third time at the Olympic Games,” she said in a statement.
“I am always proud to wear the Maple Leaf and will do my best to put it on the podium where it belongs. We have an incredibly strong and cohesive team headed to Rio.”
The team is led by Canadian Olympic mountain-bike head coach Dan Proulx of Victoria, who discovered Pendrel as a little known University of Victoria Triathlon Club member. Proulx turned the native of Harvey Station, N.B., into a world beater on the Hartland trails and now guides her on Bear Mountain.
“I know we will give our best and make Canada proud,” said 35-year-old Pendrel, who has a degree from UVic in psychology and sociology.
Up to as many as 50 athletes from the Island, or who train on the Island, will take part in the Rio Olympics and Paralympics.