Jasmin Aggarwal was nominated as Orillia’s Athlete of the Year in 2016

By Dave Dawson, Orillia Packet & Times

Aiesha Aggarwal/Submitted
Jasmin Aggarwal is a model of determination on the cycling course at the International Triathlon Union World Duathlon Championship held recently in Penticton, B.C.

Aiesha Aggarwal/Submitted Jasmin Aggarwal is a model of determination on the cycling course at the International Triathlon Union World Duathlon Championship held recently in Penticton, B.C.

For four weeks this spring, Jasmin Aggarwal was forced to wear a cast on her right leg. In July, she suffered a concussion following a harrowing crash in a cycling race. It might have put the brakes on competition for many. But the driven Orillia athlete refused to give up.

The 22-year-old Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute graduate worked tirelessly to overcome her injuries and to rebuild her endurance and confidence. It was worth every minute of toil and every bead of sweat as her comeback journey culminated on the weekend when she defied the odds in Penticton, B.C. to become a world duathlon champion.

When she finished the gruelling running/cycling/running competition in a personal best time of two hours and 10 minutes, she was gratified with her performance at the International Triathlon Union Duathlon World Championship but didn't realize -- at first -- that she had won her age group title.

"After the race, I kind of wandered around a bit and asked people about who had finished ahead of me "¦ it took a few minutes to find out I had won my (20-24) age group. It was very exciting when I found out," she said. "My goal was to win my age category and to be top 10 overall among women and I was the eighth woman, so I was able to reach my goals."

Winning a world title is impressive. Doing so after her injuries is a testament to the competitive fire that burns within Aggarwal, who also runs cross-country in the spring and track in the winter for the University of Toronto where she is wrapping up a two-year Masters of Neurophysiology degree.

It was not an easy journey. There were countless hours spent in rehab and physiotherapy and, later, trying to rebuild the level of fitness needed to compete at the world's highest level. It was also a difficult mental challenge to overcome the doubts and hurdles that presented themselves along the way.

"I had to wear a boot cast for four weeks and then it took about eight weeks (of walk/jog workouts) to build back up to running, so it was very challenging. But I was able to bike through the whole thing and I think that was my saving grace," said Aggarwal. "I was really worried my cycle fitness would not transfer over to my run fitness, but it actually transferred over really well."

Prior to suffering the stress fracture in her right foot, Aggarwal says she was in the best running shape of her life; that also aided her recovery. But it was her dedication to cycling - she estimates she put about 7,000 kilometres on her bike this year - that kept her in shape aerobically and allowed her to stay mentally strong throughout the injuries.

Many of those kilometres on her bike were spent climbing area hills. Aggarwal is a member of the Centurion Next Wave Cycling Team and works closely with team coach Rob Holmgren. "I come home most weekends and train with my brother, who is also on the team, and other teammates," said Aggarwal. "(Holmgren) gives me workouts. For example, I might go out to that big hill beside Mount St. Louis and do that 10 times. He keeps me on track especially on days when I'm tired and reminds me to be grateful for the opportunity and to train with a lot of heart."

Despite being at the top of her sport, Aggarwal now finds herself at a crossroads. "I'm at the point where I need to decide what I want both in terms of my academics and my athletics. I haven't made a decision yet."

Her options are many. She is considering becoming a doctor, chiropractor or physiotherapist. And while cycling is her favourite sport, she hasn't decided if she will focus, for example, on road cycling or continue to focus on the duathlon and move into the elite/pro category.

"It's an exciting time but also stressful because I feel like I'm on a time limit," said Aggarwal. "I just try to remind myself that it's OK to slow down and decide what's best. I love competing at a high level, but I'm at a bit of a cross roads as to what I want to focus on because when I do something, I like to do it well ... I need to decide what it is I want to do exceptionally well."

Aggarwal, who was nominated for the 2016 Orillia Athlete of the Year award, said she gets her passion and drive from her family, who were in B.C. to cheer her on to victory. "My parents raised me to never give up; it's how I have always been in everything I do," she said. "When you set a lot of goals for yourself and when you're the kind of person that doesn't give up, you just keep going."

That doesn't mean there aren't challenges. That's why it's so important to have people you trust in your corner. "I have a really good support system. My parents are really good at reminding me of my goals and what I want and my brother and my sister are very supportive," she said. "I do a lot of training with my brother. To have him physically with me to keep me going is awesome. I am so lucky to have my family behind me and reminding me I love what I do."

She said she will rely on her family, trusted friends and valued coaches to help her decide on her future path. Whatever happens and wherever she goes, she said she will never forget her roots. "I think it's really humbling to say I'm from Orillia where there are so many great athletes," she said, noting she is thankful for the opportunity to train with world-class cyclists and runners. "I train with Katelyn Ayers and we went to high school together and she's going for the Olympics... It's pretty amazing."

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