Road To The Olympic Games

Track and Field·Analysis

Canadian elementary teacher, 41, aims to bring world championship marathon lessons back to the classroom

Canada's Lyndsay Tessier a 41-year-old, full-time, Grade 3 teacher who once dropped out of running in elementary school because she failed to make the cross country team. But after recognizing she had some talent, Tessier started to find her groove and quickly fell in love with distance running again.

Lyndsay Tessier gave up running in school, only to return and book spot at 2019 worlds

Lyndsay Tessier didn't return to the sport until eight years ago, well into her 30s when she attended a Running Room clinic with a friend. (Scott Russell/CBC Sports)

When the women's marathon goes to the start line on the streets of Doha at one minute before midnight local time on the first day of these IAAF world championships, the heat will definitely be on.

Canadians Sasha Gollish, Melanie Myrand and Lyndsay Tessier will be faced with an extreme endurance test.

In the dead of night and in temperatures reaching 35 C, they'll attempt to stride through the soupy air on the way to a finish line that will seem, at times, to be a million miles away.

"I am admittedly frightened by the conditions," Tessier, a native of Scarborough, Ont., said on the eve of her world championship debut.

"The heat and humidity are unlike anything I've ever experienced. But all of the women are in the same boat and I find that comforting, uniting and bonding."

Tessier has other reasons to be apprehensive but also amazed by her appearance at this athletic summit.

She's a 41-year-old, full-time, Grade 3 teacher who once dropped out of running in elementary school because she failed to make the cross country team.

Tessier didn't return to the sport until eight years ago, well into her 30s when she attended a Running Room clinic with a friend.

"I ran the Toronto Scotiabank half-marathon and had a blast and followed up with a full marathon and loved that too," she recalled. "Unfortunately the marathon didn't love me and I had four stress fractures in as many years."

But after recognizing she had some talent and conceding to get a coach, Steve Boyd, Tessier started to find her groove and quickly fell in love with distance running again, recapturing what was once a childhood
ambition.

WATCH | Paula Radcliffe weighs in on Tessier's performance

World record holder Paula Radcliffe reflects on the women's marathon and Lyndsay Tessier's inspiring performance. 2:48

She made the acquaintance of the former Canadian marathon record holder and Pan American Games medalist Lanni Marchant who was in Toronto for a photo shoot and then became pals with 10,000-metre star
Natasha Wodak, also a Pan Am medallist, who she encountered on the Canadian racing circuit.

Fast friends

All three became fast friends and it ended up changing the direction of Tessier's path forward.

"I struck gold having these two women in my life," Tessier said. "When they were named to the Olympic team I was ecstatic. I immediately booked my flight, packed my pompoms and headed to Rio."

What she saw at the Games in Brazil planted the seed of a rekindled dream for Tessier. She was inspired to take her own long run at representing Canada on the international stage.

"It's all about curiosity and hunger for me," she said. "I have deeply enjoyed pushing my body and mind. I don't put undue pressure on myself to compete with others, but I thrive on outdoing last year's Lyndsay. I'm curious to see how far I can go, and each time I get a little farther, I get a bit hungrier."

The real breakthrough came at the Berlin marathon last year when Tessier recorded a personal best in one of the most coveted races in the world. By running a time of two hours, 30 minutes 47 seconds she proved she was not only dreaming of being an elite competitor, she was blossoming into one, albeit at a much later stage in life than most.

"I had a great day in Berlin in order to qualify for these world championships," she marvelled. "I let my legs run with it, no pun intended, and I'll let you know how I feel about making this national team when I've fully digested it.

"I'm truly moved to tears when I allow myself to think about it. It is unbelievable for me to be here. It really is."

But Tessier is here, in spite of the conditions that will face her when the clock strikes midnight on the first day of her first world championships. And to see her walk around the Khalifa International Stadium in her Team Canada gear and take in her surroundings is to be inspired by an athlete who still feels the wonder of it all.

A school teacher who thought she may never get to where she is right now.

"I identify with being a teacher strongly as I've been a teacher for seven years longer than I've been an athlete," Tessier pointed out. "It's been a challenge to be away from school, the kids, my comfort zone…but I'm excited to bring my experiences and life lessons back to the classroom."

Lessons as simple as, work hard, never give up, and chase your dream. It's pretty basic stuff and it just may lead to something even more glorious for Tessier who admits to thinking every once in awhile about
the Olympics.

"The truth is I just want to enjoy the present moment," she said. "Thinking too far ahead might diminish what I'm experiencing now and I don't want to take a single, fortunate opportunity for granted but I never rule anything out."

It all makes sense because approaching middle-age Tessier has, in some respects, come such a long way in a very short period of time.

And in the heat of the night in her Doha debut she'll be looking to live the greatest sporting experience that any athlete could possibly know. She'll continue to chase her long held passion for running.

CBC Sports has exclusive live coverage of the 2019 World Track & Field Championships from Sept. 27-Oct. 6. Visit the stream and broadcast schedule, You can also add the complete event schedule to your calendar.

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About the Author

Scott Russell has worked for the CBC for more than 30 years and covered 14 editions of the Olympics. He is a winner of the Gemini Award, Canadian Screen Award and CBC President's Award. Scott is the host of Olympic Games Prime Time and the co-Host with Andi Petrillo of Road to the Olympic Games. He is also the author of three books: The Rink, Ice-Time and Open House."

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