Lina Augaitis’ Triumphant Return to Racing, Plus One
Former world champ-turned-mom returns to racing
To be a world champion standup paddle racer requires an innate sense for the condition of your body. You're body is your engine, your brain is its mechanic, and you're constantly performing tests and tune-ups to ensure that you're firing on all pistons.
When 2014 Standup World Series women's champion Lina Augaitis rounded the distance course at the 2015 ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships, her engine was undoubtedly misfiring. Her insides were screaming fatigue with every stroke. But being the uncanny competitor she is, driven by a desire to claim victory for her country, the Canadian race champ dug hard and finished less than two minutes behind champion Candice Appleby. And yet, despite claiming a silver medal in the distance race and a gutsy fourth-place in the technical race, she knew something very strange was happening to her body.
After returning home to Vancouver, Augaitis went straight to the doctor for a series of health tests. The results returned majorly inconclusive. But one (rather significant) result was decisive: Augaitis was pregnant. For many athletes, such news would mark the end of their competitive season. But Augaitis and her husband Andrew had already made travel plans for the Euro Tour, and having competed in three college sports (rowing, wrestling and rugby), the World Triathlon Championships and countless adventure races, Augaitis couldn't bring herself to put down the paddle. Her reasoning was fair: "Racing is all I know."
So, instead of shutting down the 2015 race season, the couple headed to Europe. In the idyllic French Riviera setting of Maxime, Augaitis went back and forth for almost two hours with Sonni Honscheid in the distance race, and in the end finished just 13 seconds behind. This strong performance gave Augaitis confidence going into the next race, the Lost Mills International Brombachsee, Germany. Unfortunately the European summer had other ideas. Though she posted the best mark in the Fastest Paddler time trial, Augaitis was concerned about how the rising temperatures would affect her and the baby, and so withdrew from the 18 kilometer (11.18 mile) distance race.
"It was so hot and I just didn't think that competing was worth putting my health at risk," she said. "Even though I wanted to be in there mixing it up, I think I made the right choice."
Mercifully, Spain would provide a more temperate climate for the fourth stop on the Euro Tour contest. Upset by having to sit out the final in Germany, Augaitis channeled all her frustration into a stellar showing in the distance race at the Bilbao World SUP Challenge, sprinting clear of Honscheid and Aussie powerhouse Angie Jackson to claim victory. Though she was only able to compete in two Euro Tour events, Augaitis' performances were enough to earn her third place overall, behind Jackson and Honscheid.
Next up was the Payette River Games, where Augaitis posted two top-20 finishes in a hyper- competitive field at Kelly's Whitewater Park. Though this marked the end of her racing in 2015, Augaitis' love for the outdoors and physical activity compelled her to keep active throughout the rest of her pregnancy. "I went on a hut-to-hut mountain biking trip with Andrew and some friends and we were on our bikes 10 hours a day," she said. "I also paddled until it got too cold, and kept doing CrossFit, even though I had to dial back the intensity a bit. Andrew and I were cross country skiing two days before giving birth to Tavas."
The latest addition to the family timed his arrival perfectly for a fireworks celebration - New Year's Eve. Since then, Augaitis has been focusing on recovering from the C-section and getting her newly expanded family into some kind of sleep routine. "Tav is finally sleeping between two and four hours at a time," she said. "That means I'm up two or three times a night to feed and change him."
As any parent knows all too well, such nighttime interruptions take a toll on energy levels as your body adjusts to your baby's changing schedule and needs. But while she'll remain focused on Tav in the coming weeks, Augaitis' competitive instinct is back and she's already eyeing a return to SUP competition.
"The Carolina Cup will be my first race back," she said. "With only three and a half months of prep-time since I gave birth, I'm not sure how well I'll do, but I'm eager to see everyone. I'm also curious about how having a baby will affect me mentally, and whether I'll have the same drive."
While she will have to be more selective about her racing calendar this year, Augaitis also hopes to compete at Columbia Gorge, the Toronto Standup World Series race and the Pacific Paddle Games. In addition, she plans to take on the daunting 460-mile Yukon River Quest, and will bring Andrew and Tav with her on long training paddles in her canoe. Augaitis is still a week away from being cleared by her doctor for full training, but she's taking several walks a day, working out with dumbbells and cross country skiing, slowly. She plans to go back to teaching outdoor education this fall or in January 2017.
"I want to show that women can be athletes who are also mothers and have careers," Augaitis said.
Live a day in the life of Lina Augaitis, pre-pregancy.
Check out the wheels that carry Augaitis and co. in her Inside the Ride profile from our Summer 2015 issue.