YOKOHAMA, Japan – Jessica Tuomela is excited about the 2022 season, and it goes beyond the return to some normalcy in competitive sport.
The 38-year-old Para triathlete, currently in Japan for the start of the World Triathlon Para Series on Saturday, has joined forces with her training partner Emma Skaug on the competitive field for the first time.
Tuomela and Skaug have actually competed together once this year and it was quite a debut. Back in March, the pair won the gold medal at the Continental Championships in Sarasota, Florida.
Skaug, a 22-year-old from Victoria and a nationally ranked triathlete, has been training with Tuomela since 2020 and was Tuomela’s partner in the buildup to the Tokyo Paralympics last year. Tuomela’s official guide for Tokyo, the experienced Marianne Hogan, was based in Montreal and therefore they could only get together sporadically. They placed fifth at the Games.
“All my guides are phenomenal people,” said Tuomela, originally from Sault Ste. Marie and now living in Victoria. “I’ve learned things from all of them and Emma is no different. They all have this amazing athletic drive, and they are fantastic in working in a team. You need both to do what we’re doing, and Emma definitely has both of those qualities.
“She is super strong and very powerful on the bike, and it was super neat when we had that first race together in Florida. She was so excited in the swim she kind of surged ahead before remembering we had to be together.”
Before triathlon, Tuomela was one of Canada’s top Para swimmers. She competed at three Paralympic Games between 2000 and 2008, the highlight a silver medal in the 50-m freestyle in Sydney.
She retired from swimming and competitive sport for eight years. In that period Tuomela, who is visually impaired due to retinoblastoma at the age of three, finished her undergrad, earned a certificate as a massage therapist, worked four years in the field, and completed her master’s in social work.
Missing being in the sport world, Tuomela made her return, this time combining her love for swimming with running and cycling to compete in Para triathlon, which was included in the Paralympic program for the first time at Rio 2016.
She competed in her first Para triathlon race in March 2017 in Florida and earned her first World Triathlon Para Series win in Edmonton in 2018. She was the first fully blind person to win a World Series event.
Tuomela did consider a second retirement after Tokyo.
“That was the plan,” she said. “I reached my goal to compete in the Para triathlon at the Paralympics, but I don’t know, triathlon is kind of addictive, it’s hard to stop.”
Besides the World Series circuit, Tuomela expects a participation at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England to be a season highlight.
“The Commonwealth Games are our big goal for the summer,” she said. “Those Games are one of those opportunities you can represent your sport on a bigger stage, especially with my category included. So for me it’s really important to be there to carry this sport forward because it is so new.”
As for this Saturday in Yokohama, Tuomela is excited for her partner to immerse herself on one of the biggest stages of the sport for the first time.
“Emma has put in a lot of work for the last three years,” she said. “This is going to be a big competition for her. Our goal is just to carry that momentum we gained from our win in Florida.”
Tuomela and guide Skaug will compete in the women’s visually impaired (PTVI) category at the World Triathlon Para Series Yokohama on Saturday May 14. Canada will also be represented by Leanne Taylor in the women’s PTWC classification.