Triathlon Training Helps Overcome Grief

Vancouver athlete Amy Coppens copes with family tragedy

Triathlon Training Helps Overcome Grief
Photo: Kyle Smith

For seven years, Amy Coppens has used running as an outlet for her grief. Looking back at her pursuit of triathlon, Coppens admits her approach to the sport was unorthodox.

“I had no clue what I was getting into,” she says, recalling her first half-Ironman attempt in Penticton, B.C. in 2012.

In the spring of 2010, Coppens was training for her first marathon when her younger brother, Rhys, died. The two were incredibly close.

“One of the ways to deal with my grief was getting out and going for a run,” she says.

“It was the only thing I could do that would make me feel even a little bit better.”

Rhys was a dedicated athlete and coach, so when Coppens’ training partner suggested they complete an Ironman race in his honour, she didn’t think twice.

Without coaches to guide her, Coppens registered for the race, but broke down before the start.

Since then, she’s completed two full Ironmans and nine half-iron races. The support of other triathletes keeps her coming back.

Whether it’s prepping for the race or on the course, Coppens says the nerves and excitement shared by participants make for a unique experience. She often finds herself cheering on other triathletes, a habit she attributes to her background as a personal trainer.

The Alberta-born triathlete finds herself most in her element when she hops off the bike and onto the running track.

As she settles into her new home in Vancouver, she says 2017 may not have seen her setting any “hairy audacious goals,” but the move enabled her to train year-round— something she’s taken full advantage of, especially after living in Calgary.

“I’m lucky to live right near the seawall, so even when it’s pouring rain I can go for a run,” she says.

Coppens also utilizes Vancouver’s vast network of trails, favouring North Shore’s BCMC Trail and Lynn Valley for incline training and Stanley Park for “getting lost.”

She admits the city’s sheer volume of traffic has (mostly) kept her off her bike — but has brought other perks, like the chance to swim in a pool next to the ocean at Kits Beach, an experience Coppens finally crossed off her wishlist.

Following a 5 Peaks trail race in Whistler last summer, Coppens celebrated a milestone in her personal life.

“I got engaged at the end of the race, at the top of Blackcomb in Whistler, where I ran my first Ironman,” she says, recalling the emotional finish where 20 people had lined up to cheer her on.

She’s training to work up to a faster marathon, and plans to do another half-Ironman in the next year.

“My original goal was to do an Ironman, but now I’m getting married,” she says with a laugh.

Her biggest takeaway from pursuing triathlon as a “passion project”, she says, is that anybody can do it.

“You don’t have to have the fastest bike, or the coolest shoes,” she says, “just the heart.”