An Irish-Canadian Love Story: TJ Flynn

What’s sweeter than a trans-continental love story that ends in having a baby a week before a big race? Yeah, not much. Which is why I just HAD to share TJ’s story.

Barrelman-TJ-Flynn-1So, you’re an Irishman, right?

That’s right. Born and bred. With Guinness in my veins and potatoes on my plate.

What brought you to Canada?

A beautiful blonde from Kitchener. The short version is I’d just finished writing a book and had stashed some money from my advance. The grand plan was to travel through South America for a year or two and see where the winds would blow me.

Ten days before I set sail, though, I met Kate and fell pretty hard for her. We stayed in touch and about a month into my South American odyssey, on a baking hot Sunday morning, I woke in a beaten down hostel in Paraguay and decided I had to go see this blonde Canadian. Problem was, the blonde Canadian was living in Peace River, northern Alberta, and I had no idea where this little town was let alone how to get there.

So I loaded my backpack, hailed a cab, landed at the airport in Paraguay, and bought a ticket to Canada. I remember asking for the next plane that would bring me as far north as possible. Fifty-nine hours later, I arrived on her doorstep in Peace River and never left.

That was about five years ago now and we’ve since moved to Ontario and just four weeks back had our first baby, Kilian.

Barrelman-TJ-Flynn-KilianWhat’s your background in sport/triathlon?

Growing up in Ireland, particularly in the corner of Ireland I’m from, you’re surrounded by our national games: Gaelic football and hurling. These games transcend the mere concept of sport, though: they’re cultural, historical, they dig into your soul and inform the person you become.

So I played Gaelic football, like my ancestors before me, until I flew the coop and went to university. And in the manner of such things, and the modern world being what it is, it was around this time that I drifted away from structured sport and found distractions elsewhere.

As my 20s wound on, I realized the way I was living wasn’t sustainable in any long-term or healthy way. I was following the doctrines of too many half-crazed writers and poets. There was an anvil over my head and it seemed like it could fall at any minute.

Luckily I had a breakthrough when I went on a charity bike ride from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Austin, Texas. The reckless life was losing its shine and that bike ride opened my eyes to a different fork in the road.

A couple of years after the bike ride, I met a tight group of guys in Peace River and these guys truly opened me up to trail running, biking and eventually triathlon – the sports that now sustain me and occupy my thoughts.

But I had an obstacle to overcome in terms of triathlon and that was learning to swim. I mean, I couldn’t move more that three metres in the water without sinking. That process took about two years and now, I’m happy to say that I’ve just got my first full triathlon season under my belt.

What made you sign up for Barrelman, and what were your goals?

I’m a big advocate of the MultiSport Canada series and I knew that Barrelman was the jewel in the crown of their season. I’d heard and read great things about the race last year. On top of that, I’m coming to realize that I really enjoy the Half Iron distance, so Barrelman was an obvious choice for me.

At the start of the year I had a sub-five hour goal in mind but knew that this was a very aggressive time for me. It was wishful thinking. In 2014, I’d finished a Half Iron distance race in 5.51, but you know, what’s the point in having a target unless it pushes you to the edge of the cliff?

So tell me about how your race went.

The race went great.

Earlier this summer, by a simple twist of fate, I met Alex VanderLinden, pro triathlete and then a new coach on the scene. To say that his influence as a coach has been transformative is an understatement.

He’s given my training structure and accountability, he’s taken the guesswork out of preparing for a race and most important for me, he’s provided focus in the pool.

Thinking about it now, coach has deepened my relationship with triathlon and taken my understanding of the sport to a higher level.

Specific to Barrelman, for three months he tailored my training to that race with the sub-five-hour time as my goal.


It’s one of those unexplainable things for an age-grouper to get so tied-up with hitting a certain time, or reaching a certain goal. In ways, your own self-worth is tangled up in how you perform, which is crazy because you have to understand, too, that times and goals and all those things are at the mercy of external, uncontrollable factors like weather and general health and who shows up at a race and so on.

Anyway, I was relaxed going into Barrelman. Coach told me I’d put in a decent summer and that the hay was in the barn. I trusted what he was saying.

And on top of that’ there’s nothing like having a baby twelve days before your A race to give you some real-world perspective!

Having said all that, I’m happy to report that I crossed the line in a time of 4.59.00, and even happier to say that Barrelman was Kilian’s first experience at a triathlon.

Barrelman-TJ-FlynnWhat is the biggest thing you hope Kilian will learn from watching you compete?

I’m not really sure. That’s a fairly big question.

But every kid loves running and biking, you know? Those things give us our first sense of freedom in our lives. When we run down a hill out of control or when we jump on a bike and duck around the bend out of eyesight of our parents. That’s freedom. And those are some of life’s purest feelings.

And even though it wasn’t my experience, any kid that learns to swim and sticks with it must have a love of the water. So I view triathlon as a really healthy, fun pursuit for a kid. I see my four-year-old niece take part in Kids of Steel at Lakeside and its just unbridled joy on these kids faces as they cross the line.

So for me, as long as Kilian sees the enjoyment I get from competing – whether or not the kid even puts on a race bib in his life – well then, that’s all that matters. Joy from a pure pursuit.

What advice would you share with other new parent triathletes?

Sleep can be over-rated. Squeeze in a workout when possible. It’ll give you more energy than closing your eyes.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Like I said, I’m a big advocate of the MultiSport Canada series and as a new triathlete I’m aware that John Salt and his team allow us to lead this lifestyle that we choose to have.

Living in Alberta, we’d drive four, five, six hours one-way for a road race. We even drove ten hours to Banff one time.

So the choice of races and the convenience we have at our fingertips here in Southern Ontario is something I’ll never take for granted.

And in saying that, I’d urge all triathletes, duathletes, swimmers and bikers in our broader area to support local races and local race series. These are what sustain us and it’s up to us to provide support in return – however that support arrives.

A big congratulations TJ, for both the birth of your son and a successful race! Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

You can find TJ on Twitter at @ElCrankGrinder.

  1 comment for “An Irish-Canadian Love Story: TJ Flynn

  1. Clara Wasylciw
    April 27, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Great article on a truly remarkable person, athlete and friend TJ wishing you all the best in 2016 season.

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