By Abby Norman
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The life of any student-athlete can be a challenge on a daily basis. It can be tough to balance daily tasks along with a full academic schedule and the grind of training. While most student-athletes choose just one sport to split up their time, West Virginia University track runner Sarah-Anne Brault chooses not to be like everyone else.
A three-sport Mountaineer, Brault not only competes in indoor and outdoor track, along with cross country, she also trains and competes at a high level in triathlons for her native country of Canada.
"Sarah is what we consider a journeyman or woman in this instance," coach Sean Cleary says. "She comes to practice every day, works hard, goes home and leads the lifestyle required to perform at the highest level of NCAA running. Sarah lives the life of a professional, while undergoing a full academic schedule."
A Winnipeg, Manitoba, native, Brault began her athletic career as a swimmer, but finishing in the middle of the pack did not satisfy her competitive drive. At the beginning of high school, Brault transitioned all the training she did for swimming into running on the track and found that she was having a lot more fun winning races. Brault was a silver medalist in the 3,000 meters at the Canadian Junior Nationals in 2006 and 2007 and also represented Manitoba at cross country junior nationals from 2005-06.
In her sophomore year of high school, Brault took her many years of training in swimming along with her recent success in running and turned it into the swim-bike-run that is triathlons. Brault found even more success by winning the Junior National Triathlon Championships in 2007, while also being a member of the Junior National Team for the World Triathlon Championships from 2006-08.
When it came time to choose her next step in life, Brault wanted to find a college that would allow her to not only compete at a high level on the track and cross country course, but also give her the opportunity to continue training for triathlons.
"I had two options. I was either going to stay back at home and do mostly triathlons or I would come to school down in the states and do track," Brault said. "I knew that I wanted to do triathlons when I graduated, so I wanted to find a school that would allow me to train on the side, not full time."
That perfect match came in the form of WVU. Cleary saw potential not only in making Brault a top distance runner, but also helping her keep her dreams alive of having a professional career in triathlons one day.
"When Sarah was first being recruited to WVU, we discussed my philosophies on mixing distance running in the NCAA and the triathlon," Cleary says. "We talked about keeping her consistently in the pool working on her weaknesses and running at a level that would allow her to run in the 32-33 minute range on the track for 10,000 meters. Things progressed each year and I am very confident that throughout communication and planning that she really has taken advantage of her opportunities."
After arriving in Morgantown, Brault began her training for the team, while also balancing training for triathlons by swimming at the WVU Rec Center, but it was not easy.
"When I got here, I started swimming in the Rec a little bit and honestly swimming by yourself all the time just doesn't work. I couldn't do it," Brault said.
Cleary knew just the answer and turned to WVU men's and women's swimming and diving Coach Vic Riggs to help Brault.
"About four or five years ago, Sean approached me and told me that she was competing in triathlons and asked if she could come to practice," Riggs said. "We sat down and chatted a little bit and from that point on, it has kind of been a working relationship."
"She comes and trains with us in the mornings typically three days a week. She mainly just comes in and gets in with our distance kids and she gets some opportunity to get some swimming in during the college year."
This unique relationship kept Sarah in shape and ready when triathlons would come calling in the off season in July and August.
"She is a very good athlete and she has never had any problems handling any of our practices," Riggs said. "Maybe when we are in our heavy part of the season, she might back off a little bit and adjust a little bit here or there, but she is just a very well-rounded athlete. She is just a very determined kid. If she would have been a swimmer instead of a runner, she would have been a great asset for our program."
In 2011, Sarah became one of WVU's elite athletes when she garnered Second Team All-America honors after finishing 10th in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Brault rode that success into the summer and fall by winning the Canadian National Triathlon Championship and by competing in her third NCAA Cross Country Championship, helping WVU to an eighth-place finish.
Even with all the success she had found at WVU in 2011, Brault made the difficult decision to follow her triathlon dreams. Brault redshirted the 2012 indoor and outdoor track seasons and left the consistent training regiment she had been doing in Morgantown the last three years to travel the world in hopes of gaining a spot in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
"Sarah was very well prepared last year as a distance runner. It was tough to see her go off and leave the team in her Olympic quest as we knew that she was in line to run big personal best times on the track," coach Cleary said. "That said, one of the advantages to running in this program is that as a coaching staff and department we feel that it is important to give each of our student athletes the best opportunities to fulfill their individual dreams while contributing to our overall team's success. It was important to encourage Sarah to find out just how good she really was. As it turned out, Sarah is very good at the triathlon."
After traveling all over the globe; Argentina, Chile, Barbados, New Zealand, Australia and Japan, Brault fell just shy of qualifying for the Olympics as the first alternate for Canada. Brault decided to take this new experience and bring it back to Morgantown to finish out her career as a Mountaineer.
"Everyone that I raced against was a professional triathlete and they are all done with school or never went. It would have been pretty nice to just keep going on the road I was on but I knew it was just an eight-month thing and then I was coming back," Brault said. "I love it here. I have the team, my second degree is not done and I still want to run faster. It wouldn't have been a finished business. It is also much more helpful for my future to have the finance degree along with my economics degree."
With hopes of finishing out her career at WVU strong, Brault is looking towards the future and what triathlons will bring once she leaves Morgantown.
"It is a little scary because I love Morgantown. I just really don't know where I am going quite yet so it is scary and I can't compare it to what I have been used to because it has been different," Brault said. "At the same time, I think you need to make some changes in life and push your comfort zone a little bit. I have been training the same way for five years now and it has worked well, but it will be really fun to just train for triathlons because it is a little bit of a different training.
"I haven't quite figured everything out, but Canada is being very supportive right now. As long as they believe in me, I will do the training and do all I can to be the best I can be and we will see where that leads. That is all I can do."
With all of her hard work, dedication and training, Brault only has a few stops left on her journey - walking across the stage for her second degree and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio.