Businesswoman, mother of two overcomes adversity to pursue passion as a winning triathlete

By Gloria Limas An

Carmel Valley resident Tanja Canter has become an extraordinary name in the world of triathlons. The UCSD graduate has achieved so much in such a short time span. It was just four years ago when she entered her first competition called the Spring Sprint. It includes a 500-meter swim in Mission Bay, a 12-mile bike and a 5K run. This year, she was the overall Women’s Champion in the highly competitive Fearless Triathlon held in San Diego, which includes five segments: swimming, biking, running, then another biking and running portion.

Canter is a mother of two, a triathlete and a businesswoman. Canter, who turns 40 this year, is also the first to admit that before her first triathlon she had never run more than a mile, never ridden a race bike and swam only with her kids for fun. “I didn’t even have the proper gear!” she says.

Canter is an avid equestrian and horse owner who suffered a tragic riding accident in 2009 which she says served as a wakeup call for her. The horse she was riding fell on top of her, breaking four ribs and puncturing a lung.

“I was in the hospital for over a month and the doctor told me that being fit and strong helped save my life,” Canter said. “It was at that moment that I realized being healthy and in shape was for more than competitions, it was for everyday existence.”

The eye-opening experience made her pursue her passion of triathlons even more. Over the course of the past few years she has won the Tri Rock Triathlon’s Women’s Overall Inaugural Race, which is put on by the founders of the well known Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. It is held in downtown San Diego’s waterfront by the Convention Center.

Canter’s most recent competition was the California State 40K Time Trial Championships bike race. She says there are so many triathlons held in San Diego that there is virtually one held every weekend.

Canter considers herself an amateur versus the professionals who make the sport a full-time commitment

Canter plans to compete at the World Sprint Championships in London this September as she did last year when they were held in New Zealand. Entry selection is made a year prior. She qualified for this year’s U.S. team at nationals last year placing 4th and 7th in two divisions. Canter’s goals include hoping to someday be in the Top 3 in the country when qualifying for nationals and being a Top 10 finalist at the World competition.

With two children, a son who is 9 years old and a daughter who is 7, Canter says her toughest challenge by far is having a balanced life as a single mom and triathlete.

“I try to do my training in the morning when the kids are in school so that I spend the rest of my time with them. I like that my daughter likes to sprint with me.” She adds that because her races begin so early in the morning she has yet to have her children at an event but she hopes to have them at the finish line one day as she crosses.

Canter has an inspirational message for women who may be thinking of competing or simply completing a triathlon. “For me it’s a lifestyle sport to keep you healthy. You can do it to participate and finish or to compete in the circuit.”

She says it’s never too late to start with the sport. “The great thing is that you can do any level you choose to.” She adds that she started later in life although some athletes she knows have been competing in triathlons for over two decades.

“It just makes you feel good about yourself and what you can accomplish.”

She adds that with marathons all you do is run, with swimming competitions all you do is swim and the same for biking, but with triathlons you can mix it up and be more balanced, which is great for overall health.

Canter began her own personal training business as a result of her competitions. She says that while working out at the gym people would ask if she was a personal trainer. This inspired her to start Leg Up Personal Training. She is a certified personal trainer, triathlon coach and Tri Club of San Diego Bike Coach. Those interested in personal training can contact Canter at