On a cool November day four years ago, it became clear to Gavin and Lorna Young that their daughter was serious.
A grueling bike ride from Penticton to Kelowna with the onset of winter approaching was a sure sign that Jen Annett had both the mental fortitude and athletic chops to be a successful long-distance triathlete.
“It was November and it was raining, it was really cold, and then it froze,” recalled Gavin Young. “But Jennifer gritted her teeth and rode all the way through it from Penticton. When she got here, her feet were like bricks of ice. She was determined to do it.
“I think we knew then she was pretty serious about all of this,” he added with a laugh.
Little did the Youngs know at the time, Jen’s exploits would just be the tip of the iceberg—so to speak—for their family.
Jen went on to win her age class—women’s 18 to 24—at Ironman Canada in Penticton in both 2008 and 2009. A year later, she was second in the women’s 25 to 29 division.
Then this summer, Jen was a spectator as her brother, Chris Young, followed in her footsteps.
He won the men’s 18 to 24 age group in his first ever try at the Ironman distance.
While the Young family has always been physically active, Gavin and Lorna certainly didn’t set out to raise a pair of athletic champions.
Still, it’s been a fulfilling experience watching their kids thrive in the sport of triathlon.
“They’re both high achievers and they’re both pretty competitive,” said Lorna Young.
“But at the same time, they’re humble about it and that’s what we’re most proud of. They do it for the challenge and the personal goals, so that’s nice to see.”
So as much as numbers, results and statistics are a way to remember and mark their individual achievements, athletic endeavours—such as Ironman—have become true family affairs for the Youngs.
Gavin has long wanted to do Ironman himself, but back problems will likely prevent him from ever realizing that goal.
Lorna underwent major heart surgery in 2007 and is a constant inspiration to her family.
In addition to attending many other sporting events as their children were growing up, Gavin and Lorna have been dedicated supporters at the last four Ironmans, whether they’re cheering on Chris, Jen or their son-in-law, Jason Annett.
This year, they were up at 4 a.m. and at the beach on Okanagan Lake by 5 a.m. to get a premier spot to view the race.
As for watching their children take on the considerable challenge of a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike ride and 42 km run, Gavin and Lorna experience very different emotions
“It’s pretty stressful and strenuous,” laughs Gavin. “They’re in great condition, but you always wonder where the limits are.
“You look at your watch and think, ‘They should be coming in now.’ When you do see them come in the run, it’s a big relief.”
For Lorna’s part, the mother of two is a little more relaxed.
“You might worry a little bit, but there’s really no point in it,” Lorna said.
“Every day is a gift. You love to live these events through your kids, encourage, cheer them on, and be there for them.”
That all of them can simply share the Ironman experience together is reason for celebration.
“Mom and dad are absolutely a huge part of this, it’s all about the family,” said Jen Annett, 26. “They really enjoy watching us and we like having them there.
“It probably has something to do with perseverance, that’s the common thread for us,” she added.
“We’re kind of a stubborn family, and we all understand what it’s like to fight through the pain. It’s always as if we’re going through it together.”
And the Youngs know a thing or two about sticking together.
When Lorna underwent quintuple bypass surgery four years ago, Chris devoted much of his energy to generating both funds and awareness for heart and stroke.
From May to July in 2009, he rode 7,500 kilometres on his bike from St. John’s to Victoria.
Lorna followed Chris in a motorhome and watched him raise both awareness and $6,000 in donations.
“I thought that was incredible, what he did for heart and stroke, I’ll never forget it,” said Lorna.
“We had the privilege of meeting families from across the country, and hearing their stories. It was a wonderful experience.”
The Youngs believe it’s just that spirit, determination and dedication that Chris displayed two summers ago that allows both he and Jen to be as driven and successful as they are in athletics.
Jen was always active, but not until she watched Ironman for the first time in 2005 did she contemplate taking on one of the biggest challenges in all of sports.
“It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen,” she said.
“I saw an 80-year-old doing it and I thought, you know what, I can too. I went out and bought my first road bike and after that started doing triathlons. I’ve been loving it ever since.”
For three straight Ironman Canada races, Chris watched his sister excel at the three-stage event.
Jen completed her first 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike ride and 42.2 km run in 2008 in 10 hours 34 minutes.
A year later, she lowered her time by 15 minutes, then in 2010 established yet another personal best of 10 hours 16 minutes.
Inspired by Jen’s accomplishments, Chris decided to take on the challenge himself for the first time last month.
He not only completed the race, he won his age group, finishing an impressive 42nd overall out of 2,500 competitors in nine hours 53 minutes.
“I looked at the results the last few years and thought maybe I had a chance (to win) my age group, but I really didn’t know,” said Chris, 22.
“Anything can happen in 8 1/2, nine hours. Conditioning, hydration, anything can go wrong. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. When I came in first, it was pretty thrilling.”
Covering the course in the heat of a South Okanagan summer in under 10 hours is no small feat, one only a small percentage of triathletes ever reach.
So Chris certainly couldn’t be blamed if he was inspired by his own results.
But when all is said and done, it’s the accomplishments of others, the human spirit, and the outpouring of support that most impresses Chris about Ironman Canada.
“I think to really understand what it’s about, you have to be at the finish line and see the people who come across, you see them embracing family and friends and just how important it is to them,” said Chris, who studies civil engineering at UBC Vancouver.
“There are people out there, regardless of their athletic abilities who just don’t give up. You see how bad they want it.
“When you see people out there for 17 hours who just won’t quit, coming in at midnight. There’s nothing like it.
“Then you have Sister Madonna (from Spokane) who has done so many triathlons. She’s 81 and still out there competing. It’s inspiring.”
And Gavin and Lorna Young share Chris’s awe when it comes to the personal courage and fortitude shown by others.
The defining moment for Lorna came in 2008 when the Youngs went to the world championships in Hawaii to watch Jen compete.
One of the other competitors that day was Dick Hoyt, whose son Rick is stricken by celebral palsy.
“It was the most amazing thing to watch,” said Lorna.
“He swims and pulls his son in his boat, he doubles him on his bike, then he pushes him in a wheelchair on the run. He basically carries his son through the whole race.
“There is not a dry eye anywhere when you watch them. You’re grateful that your kids are strong and health and able to do that on their own.
“When you look at that and see the love that man has for his son, you are transformed. Those are the experiences that make Ironman so special.”
Thanks to their kids, the Youngs can expect more memorable Ironman moments in the future.
Chris wouldn’t mind providing some of those when he competes next month at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.