Laura Ann MacKay (1973-2010) - Macleans.ca
 

Laura Ann MacKay (1973-2010)

Independent and fiercely competitive, she ‘loved the now.’ That’s what led her to the triathlon.


 

Laura Ann MacKay (1973-2010)Laura Ann MacKay was born on Feb. 3, 1973, in Fort McMurray, Alta., to Albert “Bert” MacKay, who worked for Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor), and his wife, Caroline, then an administrative assistant at a local community college. The third of four kids, Laura was a curious baby with an adventurous spirit. Instead of crawling, she “sort of bumped along on her bottom,” says Caroline. “Even then, she was thinking outside the box.”

From a young age, Laura, who had blond hair, green eyes and a wide smile, was very driven, says Caroline. Encouraged by her parents, who had immigrated from Scotland in the mid-’60s, she “tried awfully hard in school—the type of girl who always finished her homework.” She was just as diligent about piano lessons, and practised without prompting, Caroline says. Though Laura was quiet about her accomplishments, underneath she was fiercely competitive, with an eye always on improving her personal best. (In high school, she excelled at typing, and set a long-standing record for the fastest speed.)

Growing up, Laura was not the most athletic among her siblings—Ross, Marion and Rory—but she enjoyed sports, playing softball and floor hockey. An Oilers fan, her favourite player was Glenn Anderson, a forward known for his quick drives to the net. Imbued with a strong sense of family, as a child she told her mother’s boss “My father is Albert MacKay,” Caroline recalls, “as if that should mean something.” Laura’s goofy side shone through when, at the age of 11, she recorded herself singing I’m In The Mood For Love.

Sensitive to those around her, Laura “realized that some people had more breaks in life than others,” says Caroline. As a teenager, she volunteered at a food bank and a suicide prevention hotline. While studying psychology at the University of Calgary (she got her undergraduate degree in 1996), Laura went jogging every morning. During a visit to Fort McMurray, her runs took her past a group of homeless people, tenting on the banks of the Snye waterway. When they called her over one morning, she obliged, sitting down to “have a cuppa with them and talk,” Bert recalls.

Laura grew into an independent woman who “loved the now,” says Caroline. After earning her master’s in psychology from New York State University, she backpacked through Europe and Egypt. (The pyramids were a particular highlight.) Her career as a mental health therapist began in High Level, a small town in northern Alberta. At first, exercise was a way to occupy herself. But she soon became a serious runner, and when she moved to an Edmonton suburb a few years later, she started competing in marathons.

A fan of live music, Laura met Travis Eltom at a bar in June 2004, after attending a Matthew Good concert. She’d recently completed her first triathlon, which interested Travis, a police officer who was a runner and cyclist. The pair shared an interest in people, and connected instantly. “We could talk for hours,” he says. He proposed on her birthday in 2006, while on vacation in Mexico. Laura thought engagement rings were “a bit overdone,” says Travis, and wanted a bike instead. He got her a Felt F4C, painted a brilliant shade of red. They married in Mexico the following year.

Laura, who never thought of herself as athletic, “was always looking for a challenge,” says Travis, “and her challenge always had to be the toughest one.” When she started training for triathlons, she “could only swim well enough to prevent herself from drowning,” he says. But after completing her first Ironman—a gruelling 3.9-km swim, 180.3-km bike ride and 42.2-km run—in Penticton, B.C., in 2005, she told the Stony Plain Reporter, “I’ll do it again, but now it becomes a bit more about the time.”

Her determination was infectious, and before long, Travis was hooked, too. They trained and competed together, travelling to the U.S., Mexico, Chile and Spain. Laura “had no quit in her,” says Travis. When she fractured her elbow in a bike crash outside of Jasper, Alta., last year, her primary concern was the condition of her Felt. (Laura needed surgery and physiotherapy, but the bike was fine.)

In late January, Laura and Travis, who were training for an Ironman this fall, went to Tenerife, one of Spain’s Canary Islands and known as one of cyclist Lance Armstrong’s favourite haunts. After riding her red Felt to the top of Teide, the highest peak in Spain, she wrote an email to her parents about “cycling through the clouds,” says Caroline. On Feb. 4, she and Travis were descending a steep, winding road, en route to the village of Masca. On the final switchback, Laura lost control, slamming into the rock face. She was airlifted to hospital, but the head injuries she had endured were too severe. Laura had just turned 37.


 
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Laura Ann MacKay (1973-2010)

  1. Laura was an amazingly gifted person who gave of herself to others. Humble about her abilities she inspired people to live life to the fullest. I am truly proud to be her sister and will miss her forever.

    • I am so sorry for you lost, Marion.

  2. Laura, was an inspiration, her beautiful smile will be missed. I am proud to have known her although, only briefly such an incredible woman with such talent and zest for life.
    She will forever more live on in our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten.

  3. So proud to have been one of Laura's Scottish Aunts, we were so lucky to have Laura visit and stay with us, it was our pleasure to get to know a really wonderful human being.

    • She was a special person, Jessie. Her inner strengh is inspiring.

  4. I was shocked when I first read of Laura's passing….we graduated high school together, travelled to Europe together in grade 12 with the travel club and we were roomates during the 2 week trip. What an amazing woman she became from what I have read as I lost track of her after graduation. She will be sadly missed

  5. It was a sad irony that we were reading this tribute to Laura the same week we lost one of our friends (and family). Kathie Chezick had qualified for Ironman Hawaii in her first attempt at the Ironman distance last fall and was loving every moment of her new training regime, leading up to this October's event. She will be forever, fondly remembered for her running and training enthusiasm that she loved sharing with whomever she met. Kathie died after being hit by a truck while crossing a highway while on a training run. My heart goes out to Laura's family, and those friends and families of others that lose a family member while that person is pursuing his/her dreams. Perhaps we can take some (little) comfort in knowing these people were doing what they wanted to be doing when the trajedy took place. It is more our loss than theirs.

  6. Very tragic accident – were lucky to meet Laura once in Edmonton. Our thoughts go out to Travis whom we knew all his life. Run the good race Travis!