Plenkiewicz overcomes injury to take on elite

Justine Plenkiewicz is one of the most experienced triathletes in Cayman, so it comes as no surprise that she will be representing the island in the age group world championships next month. 

The 2015 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final and World Championships is in Chicago from Sept. 15-19. Fortunately, Cayman has more spots than athletes who are interested in attending the world championships, so no one had to adhere to a strict qualification criteria. 

Plenkiewicz was able to sign up based on her past triathlon experience. Kendall Ebanks and teenager Brandon Williams will also compete. Kevin Connolly was scheduled to go but he pulled out this week. 

Chicago will host 150 of the world’s top Olympic-distance triathletes as they compete for a world title with the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games in mind. 

In addition to the elite races, the event features top-flight sprint and Olympic-distance events for age-group athletes. 

There are also events for para-triathletes, juniors and Under-23s, as well as an aquathlon. In all, more than 8,000 of the world’s best triathletes will compete for titles. 

Unfortunately, training this year has not been great for Plenkiewicz. She was hampered by a severe knee injury from late March for three months which meant she could not run or ride, only swim. 

Overall, she will have been able to put in about 13 weeks of solid training before the world championships, focusing on speed work and lots of short races. 

“I am taking part in all the local races I can find, including the Stroke and Stride series, the bike time trial and the sea swim,” Plenkiewicz said. “I am also signed up for an Olympic distance in Seattle in two weeks when I fly up there for a family visit. It will be good practice before the big day.” 

She entered both the sprint championship and the Olympic distance in Chicago, because the races are two days apart. Winning is unrealistic, she said, and she is “just going for the experience of a big international race.” 

She added, “I am optimistic that I can do well, maybe come in mid-pack in the sprint distance. For the Olympic distance, I just hope not to come last!” 

Plenkiewicz completed her first triathlon, a sprint distance of 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5k run, in 2001. 

Since then she has completed numerous Ironman, half Ironman, marathons and ultra-distance events. 

“I love triathlon because there is always something to improve on and you never get bored practicing three sports. You can also practice year round. Unfortunately, triathlon training takes up a lot of time so I don’t have time for any other sports.” 

The 36-year-old Canadian is head of the Policy Division at the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority. 

Her major sporting ambition is to finish a 100-mile trail run attempt in Moab, Utah. She got injured at her first attempt five months ago and hopes that next year she will be sufficiently recovered to try again. 

Triathlon events and the number of triathletes in Cayman has increased significantly in recent years. Plenkiewicz believes it’s because Cayman “is a perfect spot to practice triathlon.” 

She said, “Our swimming scene is the envy of most countries in the world, I would imagine, and we have good roads to run and ride on. 

“It would be good to have more bike lanes but there is already progress in that area as new lanes are added when new roads are being built.” 

She added that triathlons in the Cayman Islands could attract many overseas participants, “all that is needed is more publicity.” 

One of the race directors of the Mercuryman Triathlon that is staged every January at the Reef Resort in East End, Plenkiewicz and her colleagues are trying to grow its international participation. Lisa Ribes Roberts is one of the world’s top female triathletes who competes at the Mercuryman every year. Plenkiewicz wants more at her level to come over. 

“Most people who come to the event once from overseas rave about the beauty of the island,” she said. 

If she ever gets fed up with triathlon, there are plenty of other energy-sapping pursuits she can do. 

“If I was an Olympic champion, I would like to be a cross-country skier or a biathlete [skiing and shooting]. Cross-country skiers are amazing athletes.” So is she. 

Justine Plenkiewicz is a triathlon veteran. - PHOTO: RON SHILLINGFORD
Justine Plenkiewicz is a triathlon veteran. – PHOTO: RON SHILLINGFORD