Photo: Brian Buchsdruecker
Triathlete Tamara Loiselle.
Several years ago, the ocean almost took Tamara Loiselle’s life. This past winter, the Calgary triathlete became an ocean lifesaver.
Vacationing on the West Coast in 2008, Loiselle fell off a boat into deep, frigid water. She wasn’t wearing a life jacket and didn’t have the upper body strength to pull herself back onto the boat. Her only option: swim the 75 metres back to shore, fully clothed, freezing and panicked.
“That’s the only time in my life I thought, this could be the end,” says Loiselle, 33. “It was that moment that I decided to get into shape.”
Over the next three years, Loiselle worked on her fitness and raced her first triathlon in 2011. She was a natural competitor, earning a spot to race World Championships in New Zealand in 2012 and again in Edmonton in 2014.
Then on a Christmas holiday, Loiselle’s dedication to fitness paid off in a way she never imagined. It was the last day of her holiday in Cancun when she heard screams coming from the ocean as she walked on the beach with her friend. A couple was struggling in the rough water, about 75 metres from shore, an eerie parallel to Loiselle’s own harrowing experience in 2008. Loiselle raced into the water with a life preserver and rope and swam to the couple. She reached them just in time, saving both their lives.
Loiselle sees this as a learning experience for herself — and for others headed to the beach. She strongly believes in the need for better ocean awareness among the general public.
“I already had that sense that fitness is important, so if anything else, that was really affirmed for me,” says Loiselle, an environmental consultant. But the dangers of swimming in the ocean are not fully appreciated, especially for beach visitors from cold, landlocked places. “We need to educate people about currents and undertows and basic beach safety.”
Loiselle’s attitude toward racing has also shifted. She admits that triathlon can be an all-consuming lifestyle and is planning on racing for a cause moving forward. Loiselle raced in Joe’s Team Triathlon, a fundraiser for cancer and plans to participate in MitoCanada events.
“You stay fit to save your own butt, but you can also save other people and influence other people,” says Loiselle. “Why not make fitness about both?”
The experience also touched Loiselle on a personal level. She learned the importance of being 100 per cent committed to something, discovered how integral listening to your gut can be and gained the confidence to turn from negativity. All of these are lessons she’s taking to her training and into her everyday life and business endeavours.
After both experiencing and preventing near-drowning experiences, Loiselle has transformed as a person and as an athlete. “The biggest thing I want people to take away from this whole experience is the importance of being strong physically and mentally, because it is never just for yourself,” says Loiselle. “It’s part of a bigger role you can play.”