Whilst the Australian male favourite for this year’s Ironman World Championship did not win and another Australia who has won this championship three times did not have the fairy tale ending to his Ironman career, Australian Luke McKenzie stood up, made his a name for himself and will probably be one of the favourites to win in 2014.
Arguably McKenzie had the best all round race in the weekend but unfortunately was passed by the eventual winner at around the 16 mile mark. He hung on however with the belief that something could happen and he needed to be there ready to pounce.
He also dropped the most feared bike rider in the game in the later stages of the bike leg when most thought this would be impossible.
McKenzie has had a great year in 2013 with a win at Ironman Cairns and some other wins over some shorter distances. He puts a lot of his success down to a few changes including racing more shorter distance triathlons.
We spoke to Luke a few days after the his biggest result in his triathlon career and delved in to what made his year so successful.
Trizone: Luke, congratulations on a spectacular result at the 2013 Ironman World Championship.Â This year has seen you produce some great results with a win at Ironman Cairns and now a second at Kona. You are racing a lot faster this year with some really fast run times in your shorter races.Â What has been behind the jump this year?
Luke McKenzie: I actually started to run less in my training but far more focused. I cut a lot of the slow/junk/filler runs I would do once or twice a week. This in addition to a big focus back on my cycling and building my running around that allowed me to ride well but also run to my potential. I have been working hard to get my speed back that I had as a junior and when I was competing on the ITU circuit in the early 2000’s and it’s definitely getting there again. The addition of the short course racing is something I thought would help my speed over Ironman and so far I am seeing great success from it. You can recover a lot quicker and faster from an Olympic distance race so I see a lot of benefit in racing them over doing more Ironman and 70.3 races.
TZ: You started the year off with three 70.3s with 7th, 9thÂ and an 8th. Even though you didn’t podium you were still racing well and running fast. At Oceanside in particular the field was incredibly deep.Â Â Interesting in this race Frederik Van Lierde finished just 9 seconds ahead of you in 8thÂ place. Where were you at in terms of your plan for the year during these races?
Luke: The race in Oceanside although on paper didn’t look outstanding I walked away from that one very motivated and confident that my training was heading in the right direction. I was up amongst a lot of the guys that do well on the 70.3 circuit and I it was a good stepping stone into the Ironman Cairns preparation. I had a great day in St. George a month later again mixing it with the best 70.3 guys and given how hard that course is I was super happy with my bike and run. These races were really good confidence boosters going into Cairns and ultimately Kona because in both races I was mixing it with guys that are considered top Kona contenders like Freddy, Sebastian, Potts etc.
TZ: You came home to Australia and won Ironman Cairns. How did it feel to win an Ironman in your own country and did that change your outlook for the rest of the year?
Luke: I had an almost flawless build up to Ironman Cairns and I was on a bit of a personal mission to prove to myself I still had what it takes. I hadn’t won an Ironman in Australia and it had been 3 years since my last Ironman win in Brazil. I came to Cairns with a very aggressive mindset and I had a confidence in my ability to race for the win. After the race Chris McCormack said to me that if I raced like that in Kona I could win it and coming from him that is a huge complement. I walked away from Cairns with that belief and I wanted to attack Kona the same way.
TZ: After winning Ironman Cairns you raced the Philippines 5150 two weeks later and won that. You then raced the San Diego International Triathlon a week later and won that also. These were short and fast races. Why did you race these so soon after winning Cairns?
Luke: The Philippines came as a bit of a last minute decision because I had a good chance to qualify for the Hy-Vee Championships in Des Moines after my 4th at the Coral Coast 5150. It worked out well to return home to the US via Philippines so I decided why not? I didn’t do much train post Cairns while I was in Noosa but just kept the motor running. I landed back in San Diego after the Philippines race and a friend mentioned I should race the short San Diego International (1/30/10). I hadn’t trained all week and I was super tired from racing and travel but since I was living so close I thought again, why not? On race morning I rocked up to see Chris Foster and Luke Bell racking their bikes and I was thinking ‘Oh no, I am going to get my butt kicked’. I didn’t expect to see those guys there! I really surprised myself and had a strong race. I think the point-to-point run course worked in my favor there because after leading off the bike they didn’t get a chance to see me on the run.
TZ: You did some Xterra races in August with two 3rds. What is the appeal of these?
Luke: This was in the middle of my Kona training block in Bend, Oregon and I looked at the Xterra and the trail half marathon as a training weekend and a bit of fun. At this stage I had some aspirations to maybe do the Kona Ironman / Maui Xterra double at the end of the year and I needed a qualifier for it so Portland was an easy trip from Bend. It was a refreshing break from road triathlon and a good way to break up the six weeks of hard training I was in the middle of at altitude.
TZ: Next we saw you race Hy-Vee for 19thÂ and the week later you finished 50thÂ at the Ironman 70.3 World Champs. In both of these races your swim was slightly off. Did you know what was causing this?Â
Luke: Good question. I still don’t know! I guess I let my swim slip a little while I was training in Bend because I wasn’t swimming in a squad and I was so bike/run focused in my training for those 6 weeks. I think I was just tired from that training block and combined with the travel from Oregon and then to Des Moines I didn’t feel myself. I just got absolutely beat up in the Des Moines swim and felt like I was swimming through mud. I was happy with my bike and run there but I know I could have done a lot better had I swim to my usual potential. Vegas I know I should never have even lined up. I know I was run down and tired and I really didn’t go to the race with the right mindset. I was really just making up the numbers and you can’t go to a World Championships with that frame of mind.
Along with Bevan Docherty I was the only guy racing the triple crown (Hy-Vee, Vegas, Kona) so I guess that was my motivation to race. It was a miserable morning and a had a bad swim again. I was chasing from the start and blow myself up early trying to get back to the pack. 30km into the ride I was toast, freezing cold (yes, in Vegas) but I didn’t want to pull the pin just because I was having a bad day. I saw Luke Bell and a few other guys behind me after the turn around and decided to make the most of a training day. Unfortunately the exact same thing happened in 2011 but I knew I was able to turn it around for Kona so it was a little bit of de ja vu. It was fun to run with Belly and get the most out of it. Our sponsors and supporters appreciated us not throwing in the towel. That day actually inspired the Go Luke Go Luke trucker hats you saw in Kona!
TZ: After Vegas it was head down and your focus was 100% on Kona. Was there any aspect of your racing that you put more emphasis on initially?
Luke: I got to Kona a few weeks early and I instantly felt like a different athlete. I was waking up fresh every morning and my training started to click. I did a heavy swim block and started to feel stronger in the water and I felt great on my rides and runs. The motivation was back and I was determined to have a big result. I did some training with Crowie and we did a hard bike/run brick two weeks out from race day. I dropped him in the last part of the bike and then we ran off the bike together and I outrun him with a 33.45 10km off the bike (faster than my split in Hy-Vee). When we finished that session he looked me in the eye and said “mate, you can win this”.
I knew on race day my bike leg was going to be my card to play. It was about having the energy in the tank to work the last 60km and then having the mental strength to push hard on the run with a bunch of guys coming at me hard. I don’t think I could have dreamt of a better bike ride as I just got stronger and stronger. In the end I let Andrew Starkyowicz go with about 10km left as he really started pushing a little too hard. He was obviously going for the bike course record but I always had my sights set on the finish.
TZ: At the World Ironman Championship you showed the world that Sebastian Kienle was not unbeatable on the bike. You have always been one of the stronger cyclists in the sport and have ridden at the front in Kona before. Was the race plan to take it to Kienle and make him work as hard as you could on the bike?
Luke: No the race plan was to race to my capabilities. Sebi doesn’t ride to power like I do so he tends to fluctuate his effort a little more than me. I conserved a lot of energy early on the bike which allowed me to go with Seb as we climbed Hawi. We were able to get across to Starky at the Spencer Hill climb (around 120km) but I think the early effort to bridge up the 3 minutes he was down out of the water hurt Sebastian at this point and he wasn’t able to hold on. I still think Starky and Sebi had the most impressive rides of the day for different reasons I just rode it the best tactically. We all basically ended up with a similar time (4.22) even though we all rode it totally different.
TZ: How did your race plan differ from last year?
Luke: Last year I was too aggressive early. I was leading after 10km on the bike and didn’t surrender the lead till about 70km so I wasted a lot of energy early. In hindsight I attacked it too hard and I didn’t make the crucial break up Spencer Hill when Pete, Freddy, Dirk and Faris pulled away and left me in no mans land and 7th off the bike just in front of some strong runners. This year I knew I needed to conserve more and be ready to ride that last 60km the strongest much like I did in 2011 when I was 2nd off the bike.
TZ: During the later stages of the run did you feel you could pull Frederik Van Lierde back?
Luke: I was trying! Crowie physically stopped running and yelled at me “you gotta suffer if you want to win”. I just kept telling myself that as we headed back to town. I held him at 45-60 seconds for a long time but I didn’t have another gear at that point to make time back. I just always told myself to keep the pressure on in case he was vulnerable to a meltdown. You just never know in Kona till you get to the line.
TZ: What did you do training wise to get you to the level you were at last Saturday? Is there anything you can share with the world of age groupers?
Luke: I feel I trained a lot smarter this season and with more purpose. I didn’t mindlessly do any training just because I thought I needed it. I was a lot better prepared and planned my training with the mindset to be on form in Kona. I paid of lot more attention to the little 2% this year too. I ate well, I did my strength training in the gym without fail and with more conviction than ever before. I sacrificed a lot of my social life and made sure I was getting good recovery. I looked at the technical side of things a lot closer and refined my aero position, worked on a skin suit (which you saw me race in) and that all added up on Saturday.
TZ: What does this second place at Hawaii mean for you?
Luke: It means the years of sacrifice and hard work are paying off. I always said I haven’t raced to my potential in Hawaii and it feels good to have a race I knew I was capable of producing. You have to keep believing you have the ability to win it. I showed myself that on Saturday.
TZ: You base yourself in San Diego when not in Australia. How did you end up there in the first place and what is the appeal of living and training there?
Luke: Moving to the US full time was something I always wanted to do. At the beginning of the year Amanda and I separated and she moved back to Sydney and so much of my life in Noosa was connected to us living there so I wanted a change. I applied for my Visa to live in the states and choose San Diego because I feel more at home there than anywhere else in the states. I found a place just across the road from the beach so I can still jump in the ocean when I want which is important to me. I have a lot of friends and sponsors there so it affords me a great support network. Being single at the time that really helped. Living in the US is going to allow me to work closer with my sponsors and means less travel. Australia will always be home and I will always come home to do a few races but right now I am enjoying the change in lifestyle and pursuing opportunities in the USA.
TZ: Do you have an idea of what races you will do in 2014?
Luke: I had dinner with Crowie last night and talked about how to approach 2014. Coming 2nd in Kona allows me to break the cycle of doing multiple Ironman races in a year to qualify for Kona. I haven’t really thought about which Ironman I will do but I know I will race less as I know the work load with sponsorship commitments is bound to increase. It’s going to be about arriving back in Kona in a years time fresh, prepared and ready. Much like this year I think the bulk of my racing will be Olympic distance events.
AFL Champ Brent Staker Makes Triathlon Debut at Mooloolaba
With high profile career with the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Lions, athletic key position player Brent Staker has experienced the constant physical demands of competition, the resulting injuries and all the highs and lows that cut throat professional sports can deliver. Football was his life and after years of structured training and competition, like many athletes before him, the veteran of 160 AFL games found himself retired far too early and in need of a new sporting outlet.
Retirement is often very frustrating for elite sportspeople and increasingly, elite athletes from all codes and sports are finding their way to the new sporting challenge of swim/ride/run. On Sunday (11 March) Brent is making his triathlon debut and taking the plunge, joining the more than 3,000 athletes competing at the iconic Mooloolaba Triathlon, racing over the standard distance of 1500m swim/40km ride/10km run.
“This is my first triathlon, my very first one. My plan was to try and squeeze in a few smaller ones in the lead up but unfortunately with work commitments and other things in life getting in the way and I couldn’t get it to work out. I am the assistant coach for the Brisbane Lions women’s team in the AFLW so there is a commitment there and I didn’t have enough time to have the practice run. So this event will be my very first triathlon.”
“I dedicated myself to playing football for 13 years and didn’t really explore any other sports in that time. But I always knew that when I retired I would give something like this a go. Last year I transitioned out of footy and I got to the end of the year and made the commitment to apply myself and have a crack at triathlon. I thought Mooloolaba would be a great one to start with.”
“When you are playing professional sport you get so used to a schedule week in week out that when you do retire you do miss it and sometimes get a bit lost. Although it is not 100 per cent necessary in your life, having a schedule or a fitness regime is great. I developed my own training program and have stuck to it since early December. When you are retired you can sit around and do nothing so it has kept my mind active and all the exercise helps get rid of the negative energy. Staying active it keeps your mind fresh and keeps you positive and gives you a goal. This is my goal to tick off the Mooloolaba Tri and I am working towards that.”
“I have always had a keen interest in triathlon because I like the sport. It is a great challenge. I went to the Accenture Series races many years ago and I watched Courtney Atkinson competing over in Perth and just enjoyed the whole spectacle, the hype and the build up around it. I have watched the Noosa Triathlon, having a few beers in the stands, seeing how hard the competitors work. So there has always been a genuine interest and I have always enjoyed watching it on TV and at the Olympics. It has always been in the back of my mind to have a go at it one day and do it for fun and see what I can get out of it.”
At 196cm and weighing around 100kg, Brent is not the regular build of a triathlete but during his time with the Eagles and the Lions he exhibited amazing athleticism and endurance and he is hoping his big motor and determination will get him across the finish line.
“I have always been an okay swimmer so maybe that was a bit of a fluke. I am good in the pool but putting that into the ocean is going to be the biggest challenge for me. I haven’t done that much open water swimming so my depth perception with the goggles on might throw me a little bit, and obviously adjusting to the waves will be a challenge. I can swim, I am just hoping for a pretty flat day.”
“During my football career I had a couple of knee reconstructions and my rehab involved getting a road bike and I had plenty of time spent out on the bike during what turned to be two years of rehabilitation. I learned the road etiquette, how to ride and enjoy the challenge of that. Cycling is a really good sport and I know sometimes riders get a bad rap but it is a really, really great sport. I really enjoyed it and I have a nice bike that I ride most mornings. So that leg should be okay. I am weighing a bit more than I was when I was playing and that might go against me a bit but the running should be okay.”
Brent has found the transition from being a part of team structure to an individual sport quite challenging but he is slowly coming to terms with the demands of competing for himself.
“It has been different not having a team structure around me. The main thing with a team sport is that when you are hurting you can rely on someone to talk to or push you through. But 95 per cent of my sessions have been done on my own so when I am starting to hurt I am really challenging myself to get through it. That has been a huge change. Especially with sticking to the routine and getting out of bed at 4.30am three or four mornings a week. Doing a ride, doing a swim, fitting in a run and a few strength sessions as well. A lot of kudos goes out to the individual athletes out there that have done it for a long period of time. It is amazing how they stick at it and stay strong.”
“I can already see why people get addicted to it. It keeps you sticking to a routine and it is a great way to meet other people and socialize. All those things are great but clearly there is also an addiction to the challenge and the heat of the moment when your mind is saying no and the body keeps going. That is the challenge that I am looking forward to experiencing and seeing how I push through that. Hopefully I will come out the other side feeling pretty good.
As the forward coach at the Brisbane Lions AFLW team and doing radio commentary in Brisbane and the Gold Coast during the AFL season, Brent still has an active role in football but he is hoping triathlon will become his next passion.
“I do miss the footy. I miss the physicality and the highs and lows. One of the best things you can do is run out on game day, through the banner and hearing the crowd. That is something I really miss and is something you can’t replace. It is such a unique thing that is hard to describe what it is like in those moments. I don’t think I will ever be able to describe it perfectly but it is a real buzz being out there. I do miss it. I have sort of been visualizing what the triathlon will be like, as silly as that sounds. The swim, the bike or the run and pushing through the pain but I hadn’t taken into account the crowd and how much their support might help. Hopefully they can give me a lift,” Brent said.
Pre Wedding Nerves? Mooloolaba Triathlon Perfect Solution
When Kristy Dobson and fiancé Jordan Miller, line up for the Mooloolaba Triathlon (11 March) there will be ‘no quarter given and no quarter asked’ and not too much loving or cherishing, as they strive to get to the finish line first.
Six days later the happy Mackay couple will be putting all their on course rivalry aside when they take their wedding vows (with a triathlon exemption) and from that day forward, it will be for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.
Kristy and Jordan met at work dinner six years ago but it is only more recently that they have shared their love of triathlon.
“I started triathlons about two and a half years years ago, when I completed a six week training program to compete in a Women’s Only Triathlon (200m swim, 8km bike, 2km run) in Mackay. I was very hesitant to sign up for the program, but needed something aside from work, as I was doing nothing else and unfit.”
“My partner, Jordan, who had done triathlons all through high school and even in recent years, convinced me to sign up for the program. I finished the Women’s Only Race, and surprised myself at how much I enjoyed it and the love has grown from there.”
Like many athletes before her, Kristy’s passion for triathlon has taken over and gradually the race distances have creeped up.
“We do a few big races each year and last year I completed my first IRONMAN 70.3 in Cairns, we also did the Olympic distance races at Yeppoon, Mackay and Noosa.”
“We have done Noosa now for the past two years and this year I wanted to try a different race and Mooloolaba worked out to be the week prior to our wedding. We figured we would be down that way for the wedding, so why not just extend our leave a little, and do Mooloolaba Triathlon while we were there.”
“The wedding is in Toowoomba the Saturday following the Mooloolaba Triathlon in my parent’s backyard, with the reception to follow there as well with a 100 of our nearest and dearest. There is no honeymoon immediately afterwards, but we are taking a week to relax before travelling home from Mooloolaba to Mackay.”
Kristy and Jordan are all fired up for a fun day out but given their normal preparation has been overtaken by wedding plans they are expecting a little bit of hurt from the hills on the ride and run.
“Our preparation is not probably not where we would want to be, Christmas took its toll, and fitting in training between wedding planning and an already busy life has been tough. We’re both keen to have a super fun race, and enjoy the celebrations afterwards.”
“But there is definitely a rivalry between us. At our last race hit out, I beat Jordan by 27 seconds, so it is game on to see who comes out victorious at Mooloolaba,” Kristy said.
Age No Barrier for Mooloolaba Legends Gale and Ross
Brisbane couple Gale and Ross Rogers are living proof that the sport of triathlon has something for everyone and it is never too late to get involved, no matter your age or sporting background.
This weekend 68 year old Gale and 70 year old husband Ross are making their annual pilgrimage to Mooloolaba Triathlon (11 March) to build on their “legend” status at this iconic Sunshine Coast event and once again lay it on the line over the standard distance of 1500m swim, 40km bike and 10km run.
Raising a family on the Gold Coast hinterland didn’t give them much time for “sporty stuff” but later moving back to Brisbane they began a search for a pastime they could do together in retirement. They tinkered with road cycling for a short time but it was a chance meeting with an old school colleague at Noosa that kick started the couple’s love affair with triathlon that has now lasted two decades.
“The year before we started triathlon I accidently ran into an old school colleague at Noosa and he was a little bit weight challenged,” Ross said. “I thought, well, if he can do triathlon, we can do it,”
The couple’s first foray into triathlon was in a team but they quickly graduated in the entry level events, very popular in South East Queensland, before beginning their love affair with both the Mooloolaba and Noosa triathlons. Having competed in the individual triathlon more than ten years, Gale and Ross are now members of the Mooloolaba Triathlon Legends Club and they can’t wait to get back racing on the Sunshine Coast.
“Ross started doing triathlon as a team when he was around fifty. I had one go in a team in Noosa and found it so stressful that I thought I would be better off doing it on my own. That was twenty years ago and we have been doing it ever since. We used to do a lot of the smaller Bribie Tri Series and the smaller sprint distance ones but for the last number of years we have just focused purely on Mooloolaba and Noosa and loved doing those two events.”
“Once we started racing at Mooloolaba and Noosa we haven’t stopped. We love the buzz from being at the events with a whole lot of likeminded and fit people. The races are in such beautiful locations and we have never done an Olympic distance anywhere else, these races are so well run, you can’t fault them.”
“Being legends is just an extra little icing on the cake and there are a lot of bragging rights in that. We have missed a couple, so this will be my 13th Mooloolaba but we haven’t missed too many Noosa Tris. We often are overseas cycling in Europe but we try to make sure we are back in time for six weeks preparation for Noosa,” Gale said.
Married for 47 years, Gale and Ross love the opportunity to get out together every day in the superb training environment of Brisbane’s CBD.
“We cycle together with a group every day but none of them are triathletes. We live in an apartment building with an indoor 25 metre pool so we swim there. Living in the City of Brisbane we run over to South Bank or down along the river to New Farm which is very pleasant training environment. It is not a hardship running along there in the morning.”
“Ross turned 70 just recently and I am 68, while there are a lot of older men competing, we haven’t come across many couples racing at our age. It is such a buzz doing the training and getting motivated to do something every day and then there is the satisfaction of actually completing an Olympic distance race at our age. It keeps us going.”
Their preparation for Mooloolaba is on track and Gale is looking forward to bettering her time from last year.
“As I say to anyone who cares to listen that it is an advantage being older and female, because there are fewer competitors in my age group. There are no 70 year old women competing in Mooloolaba but there are seven in my age group. Whereas the males just keep going on and on and they don’t give it away. So it is a bit tougher for Ross.”
“My times are quite constant, in fact I improved my time in Noosa last year and did the best time I have done in ages and was pleasantly surprised. Training has been going well for Mooloolaba but that course is a bit more challenging with the hill on the run. But you just put your head down and do it. The real satisfaction is crossing the finish line but I have checked out my previous Mooloolaba times so I will keep them in mind this year. But you never know on the day,” she said.
Wilson Family Embraces the Challenge at Mooloolaba Triathlon
Angus Wilson, wife Sandie and grown up ‘kids’ Bianca, Callum and Dodie from “Nungwai” a farming property, up Goondiwindi way, are the perfect example of a family that plays together, stays together.
This weekend the entire Wilson clan is hitting the road and looking for a change of scenery, making the 1,000km round trip to the Sunshine Coast for some swim/ride/run and family fun at the Mooloolaba Triathlon Festival (9-11 March).
If you hail from Goondiwindi it is hard not to be involved in triathlon, as the iconic border town on the Macintyre River is heavily into its multisport and the home of the iconic long course event the Hell of the West.
The Wilson’s involvement in triathlon goes back to 2004 when parents Angus and Sandie first joined with the Goodiwindi Triathlon Club and since then the sport has become an integral part of their family life.
“Sandie and I have always enjoyed sport, being fit, along with socializing in the community, so when triathlons started up in Goondiwindi this seemed a logical activity to get involved in.”
“We have always been an athletic family, participating in rugby, rowing, touch, squash, water skiing, snow-skiing and many more sports and we have been doing mini-tris (300m swim, 12km ride and 2.5 km run) in town on Sunday mornings since the club’s beginning.”
“Callum, Bianca and Dodie started participating in these mini-tris when they were home for school holidays. Since being out of school, Bianca has done a couple of Olympic distance triathlons, Callum a single one, however Mooloolaba is Dodie’s first time over this distance.”
“The family has also been involved with Goondiwindi’s Hell of the West for several years, volunteering as well as competing. This year Bianca completed the individual, while Dodie did the swim, and Sandie, Callum and myself completed the bike leg.”
“Sandie and I are usually compete in local triathlon events, including ‘Torture on the Border’ at Texas, ‘Battle on the Balonne’ in St George, and this year we are heading to the coast for the Coffs Harbour and of course to the Mooloolaba triathlon.”
“This year we are motivated to do Mooloolaba Triathlon to maintain fitness, enjoy the family challenge, and for the kids to embrace a friendly rivalry. We are driven to be a close knit family after our daughter Paris was killed in a boating accident in 2011. Triathlons have encouraged us to develop strength and perseverance, not only physically, but emotionally,” Angus said.
The family has always done pool swims, group rides and park runs together when they are all home but with the ‘kids’ all grown up and with lives of their own, group training is not always easy to co-ordinate as it once was.
The Mooloolaba Triathlon is a definite family favourite with Sandie and Angus having participated in either individual or team for the past eight years, Bianca and Callum competing six times, and Dodie three times.
“Dodie has returned to university to complete her studies, Callum works away on our farm, and Bianca is a full-time teacher coordinating sport at her school and because we have many other commitments, the training for Mooloolaba has not been as consistent as we would have liked.”
“Sandie and I are certainly not competitive, just to finish an Olympic distance triathlon is our triumph. But despite the restrictions to training, Callum and Bianca have been training hard individually, to be the ’better’ sibling. As the older brother, Callum would like to think he can beat his sister, but ‘Times’ will tell,” Angus said.
Alf Is an Inspiration at 77 Years Young
The Gold Coast is home to some outstanding triathletes but none more inspiring than 77-year-old rookie Alf Lakin who is all fired up to do his thing at the Gold Coast Triathlon – Luke Harrop Memorial on 25 February.
Alf lives and breathes triathlon and 2018 is a very special year for him as a competitor and a spectator with three world-class events – Gold Coast Triathlon Luke Harrop Memorial, the Commonwealth Games triathlon (April) and ITU Grand Final (September) literally on his doorstep.
Alf was a typical kid growing up in post-war Sydney, he was firmly indoctrinated into the world of Rugby League, playing for his school De La Salle Ashfield, doing a bit of inter-club running in the offseason and using his bike to get around on.
His passion for running saw him tinker in the world ‘professional’ handicap racing for many years before he joined the Master’s Athletics ranks in 1980 at age 40. Then 22 years ago, Alf made a life-changing decision to move to the Gold Coast.
“My wife Karen and I literally met on the track. When I got up here I formed the Gold Coast Masters Athletic Club and she just rang up one day. So I met her down the track and that was it. It was October 1998 and she got me hook, line and sinker.”
Alf was a hardcore runner and competed in Master’s Athletics for 35 years and then two years ago, at the age of 75, he had a sporting epiphany.
“I was down at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre and they opened up a gym so we went down there the first day and there was a lady called Julie Hall and she was talking about triathlon and running a tri-class there. I said, ‘I am going to try this’.”
“I was just sitting on a stationary bike and swimming in a pool so how could it be embarrassing? I had no swimming whatsoever and Julie said all dive into the water and I had to stop halfway up the pool. I just couldn’t do it. I hadn’t been on a bike for 60 years so that was a bit strange. But I went two to three times a week and thought ‘This is not bad’. From there I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Bitten by the triathlon bug Alf decided to train for his first triathlon, a race in Robina in September 2015 and it was a day that changed his life.
“I remember my first triathlon. My wife was screaming at me, ‘Hey you have gone past your bike’. So I had to go back and get my bike. Karen is always there and so supportive.”
Since then Alf has medalled in two Australian titles, won a few age group races and represented Australia at two triathlon world championships, Cozumel in 2016 and Rotterdam in 2017, and has qualified for the ITU Grand Final on the Gold Coast in September.
“When I got to Cozumel walking around and seeing all these triathletes was fantastic. It was a wonderful atmosphere and Rotterdam was the same. Unfortunately, I got an arthritic problem a day before the race in Holland and I was advised not to race and make it worse. It was just one of those things because I was back into training soon after I returned. We think it was the long flight and the change of weather.”
Alf is a member of the very supportive T-Rex Triathlon Club but he said he mostly trains by himself and sets his own program.
“Some days I do two exercise sessions, morning and afternoon. Other days it is one session and I always have one day a week off. I try and do my longer stuff on the weekend rather than during the week. It is just a matter of planning. I love the sport, I love getting up and getting ready to train. If it is raining it won’t stop me.”
Alf has his triathlon and Karen is an active Masters runner and both are determined to not let the grass grow under their feet.
“People say to me that it is too late but I always say to them that too late is when you are dead. You might as well make the most of it while you are still going. I might be slow but I get there and at 77 what else would I want to do?”
“I love it when the young ones come flying past me on the bike “whoosh” and they are gone. I don’t care, I am happy with what I am doing and if I am only doing 25kmh and they are doing 60kmh good luck to them. I am not a legend, I just enjoy what I do and if I can inspire just a few people to get out there and do something I think that is great.”
After the ITU Grand Final, Alf is hoping to step up his distance and make his IRONMAN 70.3 debut at Western Sydney in November.
“If my training goes alright, I will see how I am going around July or August. My tri club mates tried to talk me out of it and that is the worst thing that could do. My doctor’s attitude is if you train hard enough you are good enough,” he said.
Vanessa Vacirca To Prove Anything Is Possible at Ironman 70.3 Geelong
Since leaving high school Melbourne’s Vanessa Vacirca has been on a roller coaster ride with her health, lifestyle and weight and four years ago at 123 kg felt like anything but a triathlete. When Vanessa lines up at IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong on 18 February, she will be one step closer to her ultimate goal of racing a full IRONMAN and proving that ‘Anything is Possible’.
A keen tennis player from the age of four Vanessa was very active until she finished high school but like many, at that age, she got a little sidetracked, chose a different lifestyle and took a long break from sport.
“I went the opposite way from a healthy life, started smoking and went off the rails a little. I realized this life was not making me happy so I decided to try and get fit. I went to the gym and religiously attended aerobic classes. I quit smoking, I lost some weight and felt great, fit, and happy. Someone mentioned that if I really enjoyed training that I should give triathlons a go. So, in 2003 I did, and I signed up for the BRW Corporate Triathlon.”
“I loved it, so I did a few other short sprint triathlons that season. During that time, I happened to catch a documentary on TV that was following some Aussies competing in IRONMAN (when it was held in Foster-Tuncurry, NSW). Their stories were all different and so inspiring and I thought, ‘I’d like to do that. I’d like to see how far I can go’.
“Then slowly my priority and desire to train, keep fit and healthy did a complete U-turn. I was still playing some tennis here and there, but as the weight piled on, activity became harder on the body. With small bursts of effort to try and lose weight and regain a healthy lifestyle, it seemed like I’d take one step forward and three steps back. I did this for years until my steps backwards became leaps.”
“Four years ago, I hit my lowest point. I remember thinking to myself that the idea to do an IRONMAN was well and truly gone. I felt trapped in my body, smothered by 123kg. I didn’t have the energy to even want to get up in the morning, let alone try and train. I was sad, desperate, and needed help. So I decided to look into weight loss surgery. At first, I hated this idea. I felt like a failure like I was taking the easy way out but I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to feel the way I did and needed help to be pulled out of the hole I was in.”
Vanessa was desperate to change her life but knew that if she could get over her weight issue, she could do anything.
“I remember trying to decide which type of surgery to have and asking the doctor, ‘What’s the best option for me if I’d like to one day participate in an endurance event?’ This is when that spark of hope came back for me. What if I could lose enough weight to train for an IRONMAN?” Vanessa said.
“From the first day after the surgery, walking around the hospital ward, to my slow walks around my neighbourhood, then a slow jog, a four km fun run, a 10km fun run, sprint triathlons, a half marathon, an Olympic distance triathlon, a marathon, a 70.3 and lots of training in between, competing in Geelong will be another step towards a full IRONMAN.”
“Competing in an event such as IRONMAN 70.3 or the full IRONMAN offers people a chance to regain or cement their belief in themselves, as it has for me. So much inspiration and motivation comes from this. I’d always driven through Geelong on the way to the Surf Coast but never spent time there. When I participated in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, I thought Geelong would be a beautiful place to do an IRONMAN 70.3. And here we are,” she said.
Vanessa’s training is on track and while she is looking forward to a great race, she only has three expectations of herself – to make it to the start line, to get to the finish and improve on her last performance.
“I love the swim because it’s such a challenge for me. It’s so technical and there’s so much to learn. The bike is fun and is my best leg. Running isn’t easy for me, it’s a grind but I love the intimate moments inside my head where I dig deep and find ways to keep going. Every time I run, I find my inner strength. You discover a lot about yourself, and I like that. The finish line represents another milestone in my journey and it will look like a reflection of hard work, pride, and success.”
Vanessa’s family and friends support her in everything she does and they will be in Geelong to see her take her next step on her IRONMAN journey.
“My partner is very supportive given all the hours I spend training. I’m very thankful and grateful for that. My parents are proud and so happy that I’m living a positive and healthy lifestyle after seeing the way I used to be,” she said.