- By Barrie Shepley
Few endurance athletes in the world have had a more unique journey to the top of the racing world. Jasper Blake was born in Kelowna B.C . Jasper's father was a semi-professional hockey player, but because of his small frame, eventually he moved to skiing and introduced his two son's to skiing at a very young age. Jasper's parents divorced when he was just eight years of age and he and his brother Oliver and his mother Pippa moved from ski-town to ski town following employment (Banff, to Kimberly to Canmore). Not afraid of adventure, Pippa Blake loaded up her two young boys and headed to New Zealand where the trio lived partially in a sleeper van and partially in the homes of friends. "It was a very cool time to see the world and be care-free" said Jasper. Pippa Blake was offered a job at the National Ski Academy and the Blake trio moved to Collingwood Ontario where Jasper's athletic career really took off.
The competitive spirit of the Blake boys, helped them set new records in virtually every dryland test that existed at the National Ski Academy. From chin-ups to sit-ups to leg squats, the two smaller Blake brothers beat the older – bigger skiers at the Academy. Jasper's life has never been without road-blocks and his mother's diagnosis with Muscular Dystrophy added new challenges to his life. "Mom taught me the importance of integrity and being genuine with people" said Jasper Blake. Not one to let her disease keep her down, Pippa Blake has been known to sky-dive in her wheel chair and find herself miles away from a paved road in a canoe or on a hiking trip. "My mother taught my brother and I to never give up and to make the best out of every opportunity" said her proud son.
Jasper's physical genetics came from his father, who could do any sport and was enhanced by his mother's never say die attitude. "When anyone ever asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always be an elite athlete" said Blake. "I was always inspired by great sporting moments more than anything else and achieving greatness in sport was my burning desire" said Jasper. Growing up without a TV set, one of Jasper's fond moments was his grandfather visiting in 1984 and purchasing the Blake's a TV so his grandsons could watch the Los Angeles Olympics Games. "I was glued to the TV set during those games and that cemented my desire to want to excel at sport to the highest levels" said Blake.
While Jasper excelled at skiing, the sport is a big man's activity due to the importance of a larger body being hurled down a mountain. "At about nineteen years old I realized that skiing was a big man's sport and I was too small and didn't have enough money to make the long journey it was gong to take to possibly make the Olympic Ski Team" said Blake. One of Jasper's bigger, daily training partners was Graydon Oldfield who went onto to be the National downhill champion and race on the world cup. "He was wearing the uniform of the Crazy Canucks and it was pretty damn cool. I shed quite a few tears that year, but quickly I put my energy into the new sport of tennis, which I played for fun in the summer" said Blake.
Jasper's next few summers were totally focused on tennis. He even moved from Collingwood to be in Toronto to focus all his energies on becoming a world-class tennis player. "I would commute two hours in each direction every day on the Go train and subway. I can remember reading every John Grisham novel, drinking a lot of Snapple and having a ton of blisters" said Jasper Blake. Incredibly Jasper landed an American Tennis Scholarship at the University of Wisconsin and packed his bags for the USA in 1993. "I knew before going to Wisconsin that the tides were turning against me becoming a top tennis pro, but I wasn't going to pass up a year playing college sports in the USA for a division 1 school. Even though he was new to tennis, Jasper ended the year with a 16-3 winning record. Realizing that once again he was too small to excel in tennis (it was now a big man's sport with 200+ km/hr serves) Jasper headed to the University of Guelph to start his official endurance career.
While Jasper had a real talent for running, his swimming skills were very modest due to the lateness of starting into the water. "I was not much of a swimmer and really had no right to be in the university pool but I remember coach Alan Fairweather saying to me "what am I going to do, tell a guy who wants to show up and work hard to go home?" said Blake. Jasper remembers often getting lapped in pool races and rarely beating any of the women he would swim against. "I took a severe butt kicking in the pool for three years racing for the University of Guelph and I loved every single minute of it." said Blake.
Blake started in the shorter Olympic distance triathlons in the age group category eventually winning a medal in the 20-24 World Age Group Champs. While Jasper tried to make the 2000 Sydney Olympic team, it occurred much too early in his swim development to have a legitimate chance for the 2000 Games but he was in Sydney watching his good friend Simon Whitfield win the sport's first Olympic Gold. "Seeing Simon, a Canadian, a training mate, win the medal I had always dreamed of was really surreal" said Jasper Blake. Blake realized his weaker swim skills were not appropriate for Olympic distance racing and re-focused his energy on the longer triathlons where swim speed was less critical and the ability to hurt for hours was a big asset. Jasper's first Ironman was in Penticton where he finished a very credible 4th place overall and that success drove him to train harder for future races. While Jasper was a part of the 2002 Commonwealth Games Team, the focus of most of his career has been around longer Ironman type races. "I figured Ironman was my best shot at winning so I put my eggs into that basket" said Blake.
"As a Canadian I always thought Ironman Canada was the most important long distance race outside of the Hawaii Ironman and from 2000-2011 I competed eight times and with the exception of a DNF in 2001 I never finished worse than 5th" said Blake. In 2006 Jasper Blake finally won Ironman Canada and it was as much a relief as it was a celebration. "I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to win a major race" said Jasper Blake. Blake started working with an old friend Andrew MacNaughton who took him to the next level of racing and fitness. . "It was as good as I always imagined it would be. I can remember thinking at the time that I didn't know if it would happen again so I better damn well appreciate it." said Jasper Blake. Blake fondly remembers the last few miles of the marathon in the 2006 Ironman Canada Race knowing he was going to finally win, and hearing hundreds of Canadians cheer his name.
Often athletes have to be selfish, but Jasper Blake may be one of the most giving people in sport. In 2007 Jasper and his brother Oliver courageously took their mom to the base camp of Mt. Everest. It had been a dream of Pippa Blake to go trekking in the Himalayas and plans for this trip had been on-going since the early 90s when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Pippa's health steadily declined and she moved into a wheel chair in the late 90's. but she never let go of the desire to get to Everest base camp. Jasper, brother Oliver and a dozen amazing friends created a rickshaw which allowed them to carry Pippa for 21 days up to Base Camp. "It was one of the hardest physical things I've ever done and had I not been in training for most of my life I am not sure I could have had the power/energy to help mom get to Base Camp" said a very proud Jasper Blake. "We had to lift her most of the time over boulder laden paths and as the altitude increased the physical toll was significant." "It was as you can imagine very emotional for everyone and something that I can't believe we actually pulled off" said Blake. "To help my Mom get there was without question one of the most important life things I will ever do outside of raising my kids" said Blake.
Jasper's career has not been without setbacks. The last few years have seen numerous health issues for the very busy father of two. Jasper believes that success is as much a matter of talent as the ability to just keep getting back up after you fall down. "I love that about sport and I love that about life" said Jasper Blake. Today life is much different for Jasper Blake. "Kids have really been the main thing that changed my life but it's entirely for the better " said Blake. "I don't think you can pin my retirement from triathlon on any one thing but I simply haven't been able to handle the workload required to really be competitive for Ironman anymore" said Blake. "I've had chronic fatigue issues, mono, shingles- all these crazy autoimmune things that really are signs that my body wasn't handling the stress and something needed to change", said Blake. When it became clear that Blake either needed to spend less time with his kids, or stop competitive racing (to stay healthy) the decision was an easy one to make.
While Blake will no longer be racing Ironman full-time, he does plan on doing some endurance running (marathons and trail racing). "Running is a natural competitive outlet for me, I love it. You can do it anywhere any time of year and you can be good off of 5-10 training hours per week instead of 20-30 like Ironman" said Jasper. "I've joined a beer hockey league, which is currently the highlight of my weekly schedule. I feel like a kid again when I head onto the ice. I can't get enough of it. I even go to open ice time so I can practice my slap shots. "When we play games I pretend I'm in the NHL with my super hot hockey wife sitting in the stands cheering me on" said the always insane retired triathlon legend.
Having personally spent the last twenty years of my life with Jasper Blake, I know what a special – giving son, husband, team-mate and friend he truly is. Jasper's contributions to the Canadian sport scene have been significant and his positive attitude will continue to be a part of any community he chooses to live in.