Findlay says father's battle with cancer putting triathlon year in perspective

From a chronic injury, to a heartbreaking last-place performance at the London Olympics, to a diagnosis of anemia that knocked her out of the world championships, Paula Findlay has had one rough year.

Then last week, the 23-year-old triathlete from Edmonton revealed on her blog that her dad Max is battling cancer.

But rather than look at it as more horrible news in a what-else-can-go-wrong kind of season, Findlay said her dad's illness has helped her put everything in perspective.

"As hard as I've had it this past year, I haven't had it that bad compared to a lot of people, with all the recent events that have happened, the hurricane in New York, and the Lance Armstrong situation and my dad being sick. . . there's lots of people who have had it a lot worse off than me," Findlay told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from California.

The former world No. 1 triathlete came in last at the London Olympics, and the image of the sobbing redhead limping across the finish line will be one of the most enduring of the Games. Because of a hip injury that had plagued her for a year, she'd only had six solid weeks of training before London.

After coming home, blood work showed she was anemic, forcing her to withdraw from the world championships in New Zealand.

Last week, her dad underwent surgery for colon cancer.

"I don't have any regrets about the past year, I'm very very lucky to have been a part of the Canadian Olympic team and it's a lot of hard work, but coming last at the Olympics is not the worst thing that can happen to you,"Findlay said.

"Although it's disappointing and I put so much into it — and that's the reason it's so disappointing — learning from it and moving forward is important and I'm doing OK with that and having to put it in perspective for my dad has helped with that as well."

Findlay said her "very stubborn and determined" dad is doing well. He was home from the hospital four days earlier than expected and is up and walking and eating solid food.

In her recent blog entry — "When the going gets rough" — Findlay wrote "He's showed that optimism and positivity are powerful tools when the going gets rough."

While her father recuperates, Findlay travelled to Morgan Hill, Calif., this week to be fitted with a new Specialized bike. Technicians gave her a bigger frame and adjusted the handle bars and pedals to help combat the hip injury that sidelined her for so much of last season.

"You're pedalling so many revolutions, thousands and thousands of pedal strokes daily, so if you're a little bit off in your positioning or something is not quite right, it can make a huge difference over that many pedal strokes," Findlay explained. "Small changes you might not feel right away but over the long term and over hundreds and hundreds of rides and miles, it all adds up and your body can feel the impact of it if it's not quite right."

Findlay also has a new coach in Joel Filliol, former coach of Olympic champion Simon Whitfield and former head coach of the British team.

The two will be based out of Victoria, but will spend much of the winter doing warm-weather training in Arizona and Florida.

Findlay said while it's not an overnight fix, she's getting a handle on the anemia that is common in female endurance athletes. She's monitoring her diet and taking supplements.

"Although it's better now it's not fixed or anything," she said. "It's something I'll constantly need to monitor probably for the rest of my triathlon career."

She's taking a patient approach to competing, saying she might not race again until April or May, or even as late as June. The focus for these next few months, she said, is getting strong and healthy, and rebuilding her confidence.

She hopes to make a triumphant return to the London Olympic course next September for the ITU World Triathlon Series Grand Final, which she admits won't be easy after her experiences there.

Findlay was touted as a Canadian medal hope for months leading into London, but many obviously were unaware of the severity of her injury.

"But it was never a negative thing, it only became a little bit difficult when I was approaching the Olympics still not able to run and yet I was still on cereal boxes and on ads with the COC (Canadian Olympic Committee)," Findlay said. "But honestly it helped me get through it a little bit, it reminded me that I can do it and I had done it in the past and people believe in me. It was a constant reminder that I was on top and I could get back there."

When she logged onto her Facebook account after the race, Findlay said she had hundreds of messages of support. She said she still gets comments from strangers.

"It was surprising and unexpected," Findlay said. "I didn't want the sympathy, the 'Oh we're so proud of you, you're such an inspiration.' It's a little bit hard to respond to that because they don't see the behind-the-scenes work to get there.

"They only see that two-hour race when I'm finishing in tears and might look like a hero but I certainly didn't feel like that, that's why I wasn't expecting the outpouring of support."