Triathlete sons inspire Hong Kong mum to join them on starting line
Lynda Coggins stopped her sporting activities when she started her family, but watching her teenaged sons engage with their sports reignited her own passions
This month we meet three families with a strong sporting background, suggesting a passion for sport may indeed be hardwired in our genes.
When Lynda Coggins found herself outnumbered in a sporty household with three active young boys, she did what came naturally: she joined them.
"Growing up I was a swimmer, but I stopped competing before university, and when I had the boys I stopped sport altogether," explains Coggins, 51, a chartered financial analyst and mother to Oscar, 15, Louis 14 and Jasper, 12.
Watching all three sons flourishing in sport, she got the itch to get back into competition four years ago. "Giving up competitive sports as a teenager is one of my biggest regrets," she says. "Besides, I figured it would be more fun doing the races rather than just watching them."
Getting back into the pool and into shape was hard work, but it has paid off; she regularly places top in her age group in triathlons. Last month, she picked up two silver medals and two Hong Kong records in the 50 metres and 100 metres backstroke, and a bronze and a silver in team relays at the Masters Swimming World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
Bagging silverware, it seems, runs in the family. In the Festival of Sport Triathlon in May, Oscar was first elite junior, Lynda finished first in her age group and Jasper was the first boy born in 2003 to cross the line.
"It is not uncommon for the whole household to be in bed by 9pm - the alarm goes off every morning at 4.45am as our training starts at 5.30am," says Lynda. The whole family trains with 26 Coaching and Lynda swims with the Ladies Recreation Club's masters squad.
Louis is also a talented rugby and cricket player. Oscar represents Hong Kong in triathlon and trains more than 25 hours a week.
Despite being the youngest on the Hong Kong team, he finished fourth in the Junior Men's category at the Asian Championships in June.
As for turning professional one day, Oscar is keeping his options open.
"I don't think there's a point in committing to something full time when I can still manage it all perfectly well," he says. "However, being professional is definitely an enviable lifestyle."
Oscar: In training I prefer my rides - there's more of a social aspect to cycling. Then there's that simple, exciting element where you're simply riding a bike. It's thrilling. But during competition, cycling becomes a different game. You have to be thinking quite hard: do you want to get the pack moving or sit back and save energy for the run? You're looking at other people and how they are responding; you have to know their strengths or weaknesses in running. It's quite tactical.
Lynda: I love the swim, of course. I usually come out of the water at the front of the pack, then everyone catches me a little bit on the bike, and then by the time I get to the run much of the field starts passing me, but at least I manage to hold off most of my age group. I don't really enjoy the run.
What does competing add to life?
Lynda: I look at how well Oscar organises his time and the discipline with which he approaches life, and I know it's because of his sport and training. If you don't have much time you get very good at managing it. He just gets things done - that applies equally to schoolwork and chores. I think sport is a great formula for success at school. I don't believe anyone can study or perform 24/7. Some parents might disagree, but I believe you are much more productive if two hours previously you took an hour off and did something active.
What is your favourite leg in a triathlon?
Oscar: I have learned the power of determination. When racing you're pushing yourself beyond what you think you're capable of. I think that translates into academics - although perhaps not as physically intensive, I use similar motivational tactics. For example, in swimming, I'm always saying to myself 'you just have x metres left' and that helps me to keep going. It's the same when it comes to school tasks. Plus, when you're training hard it's all you can think about; it helps to get your mind off things.
Is there such a thing as a sports gene?
Lynda: Probably, but I think there is a lot you can achieve in sport through dedication and commitment. If you don't have a bit of natural talent then it's always going to be an uphill struggle, but then again, sports isn't just about being the best. You have a lot of fun and get a lot of individual benefits.
Oscar: Depends on the sport - some sports simply require certain physical attributes. And while I think anyone can enjoy a sport no matter his or her physical attributes, from a performance perspective it may be much harder. Then there are other sports, like long-distance triathlon, where hard work and dedication can make up for a lot. The sport is as much a mental test as it is a physical one.
What do you think of the others' participation?
Lynda: I am full of admiration for Oscar and his resilience. I've watched him mature massively in the past nine months since stepping up. At an elite level, it's not just about the training and racing any more: you get knock-backs, and part of it is also dealing with sports administration and politics.
Oscar: It's an odd feeling being on the start line with my mum for some of the local races, but I believe having her there competing is a great motivator. Not only because nobody wants to be beaten by their own mother, but also because it gives me a very physical representation of just how much support my parents and my family are giving me as I pursue my sporting goals.