Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

NAIT student and triathlete earns elite Ironman status

Amanda Wowk sets her sights on world championships – while finishing her degree 

It’s a good thing Amanda Wowk studies project management – without it, it’s hard to imagine her having gotten so far so quickly as a triathlete.

“I’m all about the process, the planning, being organized, how you deal with hurdles, mitigate risks, handle issues,” says Wowk, a 22-year-old Edmontonian, born and raised.

But it also helps that she’s seriously strong and frighteningly fast.

After her first triathlon three years ago – a “sprint” involving a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike and 5-km run – Wowk was recognized in January by Ironman as an All World Athlete for placing within the top 10% in her 18-24 age group, worldwide. In Canada, she’s 4th overall. And she’s achieved this while maintaining a full course load in Management at the JR Shaw School of Business.

The day we talked to her, she was up at 3:30 a.m. for a 4-km swim and a 2.5-hour bike before heading off to her summer internship with Enbridge. If life already at times feels like a marathon, why make it harder by adding not just a real one, but a lengthy swim and cycle, to boot? For Wowk, it’s because she discovered that she could, and the discovery changed her.

Techlifetoday: What attracted you to triathlon?

Wowk: It was so intriguing because of how impossible it seemed. I didn’t know if I could do it, which meant that I had to try. I started as a runner, and then I [added] cycling and swimming as cross training. I started from point zero and fumbled my way through it, trial and error.

amanda wowk, nait student, ironman triathleteTell us about the first triathlon.

It was a local sprint. My only goal was to finish. [But] my life changed that day. I completely fell in love with it. Within two months, I signed up for my first Ironman 70.3 [1.9-km swim, 90-km ride, 21.1-km run] for the following summer.

What was it that got you hooked?

The mixture of the pleasure and the pain. You put in all this training, early mornings, long days, lots of mini-failures, and all the pieces come together and you reap the rewards.

How do you keep your head in it?

It comes down to asking yourself how bad you want it. The race doesn’t care if you’re lonely. It doesn’t care if you’re tired. It doesn’t care if you feel like it. Sometimes the best training days are when you don’t feel like it. When that alarm goes off at 3:30 in the morning, I certainly want to press snooze. You have to keep that goal in mind. As long as you do, you can overcome anything.

The race doesn’t care if you’re lonely. It doesn’t care if you’re tired.

What has the sport given you?

The sport has given me so many different experiences. I’ve travelled to places I probably wouldn’t have gone to. Some of my best days are racing or training. I’ve met so many incredible people at training camps or at races. It’s changed the way I think about things [and] about myself. It’s become a big part of not just what I do but who I am.

How has this changed how you think of yourself?

You get a better sense of self when you’re constantly pushing limits. You realize what you’re capable of. You build confidence. You build trust in yourself. You see life and health and this lifestyle for what it is and you don’t take it for granted.

How do you balance this with the rest of your life?

Managing time is one of the biggest factors in success. If I didn’t know how to do it, nothing would work. [For me] every minute is accounted for. Always plan ahead. Meals on the go. Packing clothes to go right to the gym.

The biggest thing that I struggled with is being able to say, “No, I don’t have time, I have to respectfully decline.” Everytime you say yes to something, you have to say no to something. I have chosen to say yes to school, yes to work, and yes to ironman and triathlon, which means I have to say no to staying out late on a Friday night, no to a lot of social commitments.

amanda wowk, nait student, ironman triathleteYou mentioned “mini-failures.” What do those look like and how do you deal with them?

Failure looks like anything, whether it’s a bad session, not hitting your intervals, your distance, your pace. And then there are failures that are outside of your control. Sometimes there’s bad weather, bad races, injury. Stuff happens. The better you get at accepting that, the more positive you can be and look at things from a broader perspective, and a grateful perspective.

This is bigger than racing for you, isn’t it?

It is. The race is the cherry on top. Nothing gets me more fired up than being at a start line, a feeling that’s only superseded by finish-line feelings.

But it goes toward a more holistic view of lifestyle and overall health and mindset. It’s not just about swimming, cycling and running. It’s about chasing goals and believing in yourself and truly living your best life as your best self. That’s what triathlon does for me. It forces me to be at the top of my game in every aspect.

Where do you hope this leads?

My main goal is to go to the [Ironman] world championships in Kona within the next two years. Years ago those words would not even have come out of my mouth, but here we are. I can envision it and I’m chasing it full force.

Want to be an Ironman? 3 tips from Amanda Wowk

  1. “Pick a race, pick a goal and just do it. It holds you instantaneously accountable. Say yes and figure out the details later.”
  2. “Don’t be afraid of seeking advice. Listen to people. I wouldn’t change how I went about things being self-coached. But there’s a reason certain things work and certain things don’t. The sooner you accept help the better off you’ll be."
  3. "The last piece of advice is kind of cliché: have fun and to enjoy it and don’t take it for granted. There are so many people who would like to be able just to run a 5K. It is such a blessing. Keep that in your mind and you’ll go far.”

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