Cyclist Tegan Cochrane's Olympic dream never ended, it just took a detour
Kelowna, B.C., native made transition from hockey after tearing her ACL twice
MILTON, Ont. — Tegan Cochrane always wanted to be an Olympian.
When the Kelowna, B.C., native was in the second grade, she wrote that on a piece of a paper in response to what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Cochrane just never thought that it would be as a track cyclist.
The 25-year-old had a promising hockey career — receiving a training camp invite in 2009 for Team Canada's Under-18 squad but was unable to attend.
That year, Cochrane had torn her ACL twice, and just like that, her hockey career came to a sudden halt.
"I was devastated because I've been playing hockey for almost 15 years and I dedicated my entire life to that. I found my identity in hockey. So when I stopped playing, I was like, 'Well, who am I if I'm not a hockey player?' recalls Cochrane.
Cochrane took a few years off to do some soul searching. She went back to school to finish her business degree but still had that competitive drive within her.
"I thought, 'I don't think I'm done.' I did a couple of extreme sports — Red Bull Crashed Ice, skeleton — I sort of dabbled in a few things but nothing captured my heart until I found cycling." she says.
Cochrane was travelling in New Zealand and remembers seeing bikes everywhere she went. She decided to give track cycling a try at one of the local velodromes.
After completing a 200-metre sprint, she was hooked. She spent another two hours cycling around the track.
"I had been travelling for months and was out of shape...[But] I was like, 'I really like this.'" Cochrane says.
Cochrane returned home, contacted Cycling Canada, and began training at her local cycling track.
Bridging the gap
Cochrane knew she was years behind other cyclists of her age and dedicated countless hours to bridge that gap.
"The biggest challenge that I still face is having a smooth pedal stroke and that's something that's only developed after years of riding a bicycle. So that's been the most difficult part for me is just finding that suppleness. But it's something I practise all the time," Cochrane says.
Making the transition from hockey to cycling was always going to be difficult. Cochrane knew that if this was going to work, she had to be patient — celebrate the small successes because it would be overwhelming if she only focused on the long-term ones.
Just two years into competing, Cochrane has made massive strides. Last year in her first Canadian championships, she reached the podium in all four of the events she entered.
Cochrane told her friends and family that she was going to head out of nationals as one of the top sprinters in Canada and she didn't disappoint.
"I was blown away. It was one thing to set my goal and then to meet them, it was amazing. It boosted my confidence," Cochrane says.
"From that point forward, I'm not afraid to speak my goals out loud. When you do that, it holds you accountable to some aspect."
Her performance caught the eye of then-Canadian head track cycling sprint coach, Erin Hartwell, who invited Cochrane to a 10-day training and assessment camp in Milton.
Cochrane attended and returned home afterwards to complete her degree. At that point, there was nothing stopping her from going all-in on cycling.
Last January, Cochrane moved to Milton to train full-time at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre — the training base for the Canadian team.
Complete with physiotherapists, nutritionists, sports scientists, and a gym — it provides aspiring Olympians like Cochrane with all the necessary tools to succeed.
There's also the added benefit of training alongside proven Olympians who knew what it took to reach that level.
Rio Olympian and three-time Pan Am Games medallist Hugo Barrette was one of the athletes willing to lend a helping hand to Cochrane.
"Every time we're on the track, he'll always give me pointers [and] help with my race prep. I thank him all the time. I'm pretty lucky, I have some amazing teammates," Cochrane says.
"I love picking their brains. Even just watching them — the way they train, the way they dedicate themselves — is so inspiring."
Cochrane knew she wanted to be an Olympian after watching Michael Phelps' historic eight gold-medal haul at the 2008 Beijing Games. She thought winning must make him feel like he's on the highest mountain.
In three years, Cochrane might get that chance.
But for now, she's got her head down — putting her best effort each day into training to make that lifelong dream a reality.
"I just remember him splashing in the water and putting his arms up in the air and thinking, 'Wow! That must be the best feeling in the entire world and I want to feel that.' I know that the percentage of getting a gold medal at the Olympics is really small, but that's still something I aim for. I'm definitely chasing that feeling of putting my arms in the air and celebrating a gold medal for Canada," Cochrane says.