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Sweetland retires from competition

Triathlete made goal of reaching Olympics in 2016



Kirsten Sweetland has hung up her running shoes.

And her bike helmet.

And her wetsuit.

The triathlete, who competed at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, announced her retirement alongside two other longtime competitors in Sarah-Anne Brault and Andrew Yorke earlier this month.

When Sweetland, 28, finally made it to the Games, it was after overcoming myriad challenges after a successful junior career. When aiming to qualify for the 2008 Games, she went full bore at a qualifier in Iowa chasing the win when her pace was good enough to get her there. She collapsed in the hot sun and gave up the spot. In the next quadrennial, stress fractures suffered during training forced her to halt her charge for the London Games in 2012. Sweetland's road to Rio wasn't easy, either, as she battled through Lyme Disease to lock down her spot.

"I had so much trouble getting there in the past that I needed to get the job done. It's been pretty hard those past few years training and competing. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. It did take away a little bit of my enjoyment of the sport, in a sense," she said. "Completely healthy and with energy, I love the sport and it's my passion, but it was pretty draining the past few years to train.

"I'm not completely giving up on sport and being an athlete. I need to get well, obviously. It's just ITU (International Triathlon Union) triathlon is going to be a little much to take on."

Regardless of the health issues that arose, Sweetland acknowledged that due to the sport's draining effects, 2016 would likely be her last chance to seriously challenge for an Olympic berth.

"I knew before Rio that that would likely be my last ITU race, or my last Olympic-distance (race). Just the nature of short-course triathlon and the training that it takes is really intense. Competing so competitively, you can't have anything on, any ailments or anything like that, so everything had to be perfect," she said. "I figured it's probably best for me and my health in the future that I don't beat myself into the ground."

Sweetland, who was the Junior World Champion in 2006, the U23 silver medallist in 2010 and silver medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland, said the obstacles she faced made the Brazilian experience that much sweeter.

"I had goals for myself and winning World Cups or World Juniors felt like a big deal at the time, and they were a big deal, but I didn't realize how much better reaching my goals after I had some troubles would feel," she said. "My 2014 season, I was pretty proud of that. I was coming into the form I thought I could."

Sweetland has had the chance to get up the mountain to do some skiing — something the Nanaimo product didn't know how to do before moving to Whistler — and has also run in the snow here while also taking her bike down for rides in Squamish.

"I'm looking forward to summer with the bike park and days at the lake. I didn't really get to enjoy too much last year," she said. "I definitely have goals in mind. I don't want to say 'I'm going to go out there and do this,' and put a bunch of pressure on myself, but I really do like off-road racing and trails and that, so I think it would have to be something that involves off-road endurance."

And she's been receiving treatment for Lyme Disease. Though she's not completely better, she's feeling like she's well on her way.

"I've been feeling so much better since about October. I just had a doctor's appointment the other day where she said we're about 50 per cent of the way there. I feel like I'm more than 50 per cent," Sweetland said.