TORONTO - He'd logged countless hours in the pool and on the roads over the course of his illustrious career, so when triathlete Simon Whitfield retired from competing last fall, he figured he could afford to take it easy.
But the lack of activity didn't sit well with Whitfield.
"My mental well-being mostly really started to deteriorate where I felt overwhelmed all the time, and quite unhappy," Whitfield said Wednesday. "Once I figured out I had to get back in that routine, putting some fitness into my daily routine, I noticed the same amount of work didn't feel nearly as overwhelming. . . even though I had that excuse that most people make of 'Oh I'm too busy to work out.' But I had been so inefficient in the afternoon."
The 39-year-old will push off on his paddle board from Vancouver's English Bay next Wednesday, and will arrive in Victoria three days later, an initiative called "Stand Up Paddle for Men's Health" to raise awareness for the new Canadian Men's Health Foundation, of which Whitfield is a spokesman.
Whitfield, who raced to triathlon gold at the 2000 Sydney Games and then followed it up with silver eight years later in Beijing, said training for the 140-kilometre paddling trek has helped him through the tough transition from Olympic athlete saying he's had his "own struggles."
"I found it really difficult after having 30-plus years of singular focus to athletic endeavours, to not have anything to focus on," he said.
Whitfield doesn't own a road bike anymore, and hasn't been in a pool in nearly a year.
"I play soccer twice a week, I paddle five days a week, and I go to the gym a couple of days a week with the boys, it's mostly just to catch up and lift some heavy things for a little bit. I shouldn't say heavy things, I lift some moderately heavy things, since I'm a bit of a weakling," Whitfield said.
He was in Toronto on Wednesday, a day after he, along with Vancouver Canucks' president of hockey operations Trevor Linden, two-time Grey Cup champion Shea Emry, and Olympic rowing champion Adam Kreek, among others, launched the CMHF's campaign — www.DontChangeMuch.ca — in Ottawa.
The campaign is focused on men aged 30 to 50.
"As Trevor pointed out yesterday, they're past the invincible phase," Whitfield said. "You're in your 20s and you think you know the whole road map to life. In your 30s you think, 'Oh no no no, I just had the map upside down, but I still have the road map.' And then in your 40s you think, 'Oh my God, there's no map.' And those issues that you've kind of accumulated over time, that one pound a year that you've put on since college is starting to catch up with you."
Whitfield is no stranger to giving health tips to his male friends and colleagues.
"It's fun. I play in a Sunday soccer league and if you need your cable done you go to Ricky, and if you need your house painted you go to Thomas, and if you need your coffee, you go to Shane, if you need fitness advice you come to me," Whitfield said.
He values the fact his schedule isn't tied to training any more. He's loving being able to be there for his daughters Pippa, who's seven, and Evelyn, four.
"I'm always focused on spending time with my kids at the park. I get to skip training now when the kids are doing something fun. Which I really enjoy," he said. "They did their first bike race the other day, and instead of going paddling I went and ran around this fun cycling race with them. It was great, it was very satisfying."
His daughters will be aboard the boat that follows Whitfield and his 10 fellow paddlers next week. Lina Augaitis of North Vancouver, B.C., winner of the ISA world standup paddle championships, is among the paddling team.
"I made the mistake of asking her if this was a long way for her. She said, "Yeah well, I did 750 kilometres last year in Costa Rica at one time, so your little 140 is not that bad,'" Whitfield said laughing. "I was like 'Uh, sorry about that.' I'm the least experienced by far. I don't know what I got myself into."
Whitfield made headlines recently when Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue volunteers near Victoria responded to a citizen's report of a paddler in possible distress in gale force winds. The crew rushed out to find Whitfield enjoying the huge waves.
Whitfield and his team will paddle 65 kilometres the first day, and 40 on each of the second and third days.