NGWSD: Christina Howard is an Ironwoman

Christina Howard wasn’t always a triathlete.

From South Surrey, Howard started at UBC in 2012 with her bachelor’s of science, followed by a master's and is currently a PhD student studying climate sensitive growth in Quebec trees in the Faculty of Forestry. Throughout her time at UBC, she’s slowly become one of the world’s best triathletes.

“I got really into cycling through my masters. I’d already been kind of into running. But I always was far too intimidated by the swim,” she said. She completed her first triathlon at UBC in 2020. Howard continued to train and tried out for the UBC Triathlon Club in 2021.

“I wasn't sure if I was even going to make the team but when I started my PhD … I was like, ‘You know what, I'm gonna just try to continue what's the worst that can happen? I don't make the team and I continue to train on my own.’”

She made the team.

Triathlon races vary from sprint-style, to relay format, to long-distance triathlons like the Ironman — a triathlon consisting of a 3.9 km swim, 180.2 km bike ride and a 42.2 km run (the same as a marathon) to cap it all off.

Despite what the name suggests, Ironman triathlons are not reserved for men. In fact, the Women’s Ironman World Championship took place in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in October 2023 and Howard qualified to compete in these World Championships.

She finished in less than 12 hours and was the top Canadian in her age group, but remained humble saying it was “an amazing opportunity,” especially since most Ironman races are not gender specific and less than 30
per cent of competitors are women.

“Having that day being entirely dedicated to women was amazing.”

Howard got into cycling during her master's degree and made the jump to triathlon in her PhD.
Howard got into cycling during her master's degree and made the jump to triathlon in her PhD. Zoe Wagner / The Ubyssey

Howard also brought up something female athletes of all levels know about: mockery. She mentioned being at the start line in mixed gender races and having been doubted by her male-competitors.

“Sometimes it does suck when the men around you are laughing at you at the beginning of a race. It's so frustrating because you start your day off knowing that the people around you are underestimating you,” she said. “[But] starting the day at Kona, that was the furthest thing from my brain. The atmosphere was amazing. Everyone stating the race was so happy to be there. And nobody was underestimating each other.”

Howard noted that at UBC, she has had positive experiences with her races and training when it comes to being a woman in an endurance sport.

“The UBC team is an amazing space,” she said. “You could have chosen any of the women on the triathlon team and they would have had amazing experiences to speak of.”

Outside of sports, Howard also occupies other spaces that are very man focused — whether that choice is made “subconsciously or consciously” she doesn’t know. Forestry is a male-dominated field, and Howard hopes to pave the way for women. After her PhD, Howard plans to work for Natural Resources Canada on Vancouver Island, where she was “often the only woman on [the] team,” she said.

Both professionally and athletically, Howard is willing to put herself in these male-dominated spaces for a chance of a more equal future.

“I want to live in a world where when kids are thinking about ‘what do I want to do when I grow up?’, I want women to be able to say the same answer that the boys in the same class say … I want a boy or girl to say I want to be a nurse and a girl to say ‘I want to be a firefighter.’ I want all of those answers to mean the same thing,” she said.

“I don’t want any of those answers to be taken away from kids before they even have a chance to pursue them.”

February 7 is National Girls and Women in Sports Day.