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Sudbury teens dive in, full tilt, to provincial triathlon racing

For the most part, the world of triathlons has been viewed as that haven of adult athletic activity, the all-encompassing refuge of many who have enjoyed some level of success in either running, swimming or cycling, in their youth.

A pair of Sudbury natives, however, has gotten an early start with the above-noted process, garnering a solid reputation on a provincial scale, in the process.

Bella Mastroianni (age 16) and Ian MacKenzie (age 15) both raced extensively this summer, largely at courses across Ontario, with both earning some top end accolades.

Mastroianni captured the Triathlon Ontario Junior Cup Series, covering stops in Peterborough, Toronto, Ottawa and Welland, while MacKenzie claimed top spot at the series finale, edging Sage Sulentic by 16 seconds at the Draft Legal Provincial Championships for the U15 boys title on Labour Day weekend.

Both are clearly bitten by the triathlon bug.

For Mastroianni, the allure dates back quite a bit further, first racing in the ultra-shortened introductory distances at the tender age of six. “I started to do triathlons as cross-training for swimming,” noted the grade 12 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. “Now, they overlap a lot. It’s hard to choose.”

“I just kind of feel that if I get rid of my triathlon training completely, then my cardio will not be as good for swimming,” added Mastroianni. While the topic of single sport specialization has certainly been broached with the talented member of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club before, never has the discussion been timelier.

Returning recently to Sudbury from an official swim visit to Indiana University, Mastroianni has also reached out to a handful of NCAA institutions that offer scholarships for female triathletes, even if this pool of schools is dwarfed by those who compete in swimming. And still, there are other options.

“I’m still not 100% sure whether I want to go to the States or stay in Canada,” she said. “Going to the States would be such a great opportunity, but I feel I would be more comfortable in Canada.”

First, however, comes the need to perform at a level that opens those doors. Mastroianni is clearly hoping that recent health concerns in both disciplines do not rear their ugly head in her final year of secondary schooling.

“Last year was an on and off year of swimming,” she said. “I started off the year a lot better than I thought I was going to be, but the middle of the season was a rough point. I wasn’t swimming well and was so discouraged. But near the end of the season, we went to Florida and I raced a lot better. That made my confidence come back.”

The wear and tear of track season, last spring, would result in shin splints followed by stress fractures, all of which added up to some six to seven weeks without run training, right in the middle of her summer of triathlons.

“I like swimming and biking more than running, so when I first started to have to take time off, I enjoyed it, to be honest,” confessed Mastroianni. “But after that, I started to feel really unfit, my cardio was so bad. It was challenging around week four or five, when I still couldn’t run, but it really did payoff in the end.”

“I’m actually running faster now than I was before.”

Regardless, decision time will be coming fast, with much dependent on just how the 2019-2020 swim season plays out for Mastroianni.

Ian MacKenzie is still a year or two away from such a dilemma. Just entering grade ten at Confederation Secondary School, the youngest of two boys in the family is not looking at full-time swimming as an option. Rather, the top quartile cross-country performer on an OFSAA level will need to decide just how much time he wishes to devote to tri-sport training versus simply focusing on post-secondary track and cross-country.

That decision was made much tougher, this past summer, with MacKenzie spending the majority of that time increasing his workload load as a member of the Hamilton Hammerheads, joining forces with coach David Hopton. “It’s growing here in Sudbury, but there’s not as much as we have down there,” he said. “There was definitely more volume.”

“We might do a three hour easy ride some days, sometimes four hours – and there were lots of nice easy runs. I can’t do that as much here. I definitely want to see how far I can take it.”

While there were some handy tricks of the trade to be learned in the company of other triathletes – MacKenzie noted a tip from his coach coming through the second transition that equated to about 15-20 seconds in time savings – the biggest single area of progress was undoubtedly in his swim.

“It improved the most, just because of the volume that we put in and how hard the workouts were, and the open water training with my teammates, learning to draft,” said MacKenzie. There was also the in-race learning that came courtesy of a race in Québec that featured some 15 guys on the bike in the lead pack, all at one time.

“In the pack, there will be guys talking and they will try and drop you,” stated MacKenzie. “You kind of have to just hold on and not let them go, or else you’ll be out there on your own and it will be even tougher. You’ll be out of the race.”

Racing in Magog (P.Q.) on the same weekend as a Can-Am event, and joining a 14-19 age bracket in a Super League event in Ottawa, simply added to the terrific takeaways from the summer of 2019.

“Those were very cool settings, really neat opportunities,” said MacKenzie. “Just getting a chance to race against 19 year olds, and a guy from Australia, that was cool. I just feel more confident now in my triathlons, after competing at the provincial level all summer.”

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