Kevin Mackinnon profiles this year’s Bonita Ironman New Zealand champion Joanna Lawn
As much as Joanna Lawn didn’t have much downtime last year, her impressive victory at Bonita Ironman New Zealand last month signified one of the most impressive comeback’s we’ve seen in the sport. Last July, Lawn was unable to even start an Ironman in Germany, fighting extreme fatigue, nutrition problems and issues with her alignment that pretty much stopped her in her tracks.
While a second place finish at Ironman New Zealand, along with a top-10 Kona finish â€“ despite two position violations that left her in the penalty box for eight minutes â€“ might be a career year for most, for Lawn the challenging year turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
â€œI was taking for granted a lot of things that make a great athlete,â€ Lawn says. â€œYou can’t. Ironman’s a long day to lie. I didn’t have a bad year, but for me it wasn’t the year that I wanted. Sometimes you have to lose to win. It made me look in the mirror.
â€œIt’s not just one thing in your body that makes you balanced and healthy. It’s everything. I wasn’t eating well. For Ironman, you can eat anything you like. The complete package for an Ironman is to be balanced. A little bit of everything is what it takes to be great.â€
After a magical six-year string of victories at Bonita Ironman New Zealand in Taupo (during which she managed to rack up numerous top finishes in Kona, not to mention sub-nine hour Ironman clockings in Europe and a string of other victories), Lawn lost her title to Gina Ferguson last year. That loss served as a bit of a wakeup call â€“ as good as Ferguson is, Lawn wasn’t as competitive as she should have been that day because of her alignment issues and the fact that she had become too obsessed with her diet.
Rather than race in Europe, Lawn and her husband Armando sought out the services of a bike fitting specialist in Germany. He told her that the problem came from her jaw â€“ â€œIf that’s out of line, the rest of your body will be out of line,â€ he told her.
That visit prompted a trip to a dentist, who put together a mouth guard for her. In just a few days Lawn suddenly felt like a new person.
â€œThe mouth guard aligned my body,â€ she says. â€œFor me, my jawline is crooked. My bottom and top teeth never aligned. Now my jaw is completely aligned. It feeds the rest of my body. I haven’t seen a chiropractor since last April.â€
Looking back, she now realizes that getting beaten in Taupo was the best thing that could have happened to her.
â€œI think that it was a blessing in disguise,â€ she says. â€œIf I had won, I wouldn’t have changed anything. I hit rock bottom â€“ when you’re rock bottom, you have to go back to basics. Sometimes when you’re down, you’ve got to look for a solution.â€
By the time Lawn got to Hawaii, she was starting to notice a huge difference in her training. An extended training camp with two-time Ford Ironman champ Craig Alexander left her with lots of confidence in her fitness, but it was the changes in her diet and the improved alignment thanks to the mouth guard that seemed to really be helping.
â€œIn Hawaii, I’d only had my mouth guard for eight weeks before race day,â€ she says of her dramatic improvements. â€œI’d only been aware of what I was eating for eight weeks, too. Now I’ve been at it all for four or five months.â€
Despite all the tough experiences of 2009, Lawn never thought about quitting.
â€œI told Armando that I wasn’t ready to give up,â€ she says. â€œI know there’s something wrong with me, but I don’t know what it is. Sometimes you have to sit and let God set the path.â€
Lawn has so many positive things to say about the mouth guard she’s using that other athletes have talked to her about it.
â€œThe bad news is that Chrissie (Wellington) wants to get one, too,â€ Lawn laughs. â€œPeople will think that I’m crazy, but there’s a reason why I was sitting on the left of my bike and riding in a circle.â€
Now that she’s back to her winning ways, Lawn has once again set her sights on Kona.
â€œI’d like to make the podium in Hawaii,â€ she says. â€œThat doesn’t mean I don’t want to win, but taking the pressure off myself, top three in Hawaii is an amazing achievement. I’m very happy with my career. I’m getting older – top three in Hawaii, I’d be very happy.â€
Lawn also has a plan on when she’ll end that impressive career â€“ she says she’ll retire in 2012.
That’s two years â€“ two years to continue a â€œcomebackâ€ that isn’t really a comeback. If she continues to race like she did in New Zealand last month, that podium finish in Kona is all-too-attainable â€“ especially if she can now convince all her competitors that they really don’t want to follow her footsteps and pay their dentist a visit.
You can reach Kevin Mackinnon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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