Features | From Pivot Magazine

This CPA has his sights set on Tokyo 2020

Alberta race walker Mathieu Bilodeau almost retired from sport, until a chance encounter sent him to the Olympics

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CPA Mathieu Bilodeau race walking with other racers in a marathon outside on the streetsAlberta CPA Mathieu Bilodeau competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio (Jewel Samada/AFP/Getty Images)

Have you always been involved in competitive sports?

I moved to Calgary in 2011 to train as a skier and triathlete. When I took a job at an oil company called MEG Energy three years later, I felt overwhelmed—I was working a full-time job and training simultaneously—and I thought it might be time to retire from sport.

How did you get into race walking?

One night while training, I met a woman with an Olympic ring on her finger: Janice McCaffrey, one of the best race walkers ever—and, by coincidence, the wife of my boss, Bill McCaffrey. I didn’t even know what race walking was. I asked her, “Can you show me?” It was 18 months before the Rio Olympics qualifying races. I said, “If I’m any good, I’ll try to qualify.”

What is race walking?

Race walking is one of the oddest sports in the Olympics: one foot on the ground at all times, knees straight until they pass your hips. It looks funny. The first month or so, I walked around Calgary at night. Sometimes my wife would bike beside me and say, “That guy we passed was laughing at you.”

What was your first race?

My first race was U.S. nationals. Then I qualified for the World Championships in Beijing. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was competing against the best in the world. My technique was like a robot. But I was there. And I decided, “No, I’m not retired!” 

Any highlights you can share?

I competed in Rio, but didn’t finish my race due to exhaustion. During the closing ceremony, my mom texted me from Quebec City: she could see me on TV! That made me realize people all over the world were watching me.

Are you famous?

I’m kind of a star in France, where race walking is popular. People love my Québécois accent, and I think they’re interested that I’m a CPA and an athlete. It’s almost impossible in France to combine a career and sport.

How do you balance work and training?

Combining work and training was tough. I’d wake up at 4 a.m. to walk 30 kilometres, do a full workday, then get back on the track at night. Sometimes, at lunch, I’d sleep under my desk.

What do you do now?

I’m an auditor at Deloitte now. But this year, I took a leave of absence to move to Canmore and train for the 50-kilometre race at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. That may be the end of my career as a race walker. After that, I’d like to become a manager or partner with Deloitte. But 2020 comes first.