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Clayton Fettell Comes of Age

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Aussie Ironman triathlete, Clayton Fettell talks to Trizone about working with a new coach, re-igniting his passion for triathlon, coping with criticism and looking forward to the future.

Clayton Fettell. He’s been described as hot-headed, unprofessional and ‘promising but inconsistent’. Not too long ago he was ready to ditch triathlon and get a ‘real job’. But it seems Clayto is back on track with a new focus and a renewed fire. And if Ironman Cairns is any indication he just might have what it takes to reach the top. In this no-holds-barred interview, Clayton goes deep with journalist Jeremy Thewlis and talks honestly about dummy spits, being a dad and why at age 30 he feels like he’s finally coming of age.

JT: Clayton, let’s start with Ironman Cairns in June. Did you feel like you had a good day?

CF: Cairns was my third Ironman in three months. I went in carrying a little bit of a back niggle. That flared up on the run and it ended up being a lower back issue. I’ve spent the last four weeks getting treatment. And I’ve also started with a new coach. Let’s just say I’ve had a few changes in my life over the last four weeks.

JT: So who’s coaching you now?

CF: His name’s Cameron Watt. He coaches under Brett Sutton, who has one of the best resumes in the sport. Cam was a former pro triathlete and was director of the Budget Forklift Pro Continental Bike team in Australia. Now he’s switched his focus to coaching.

JT: How does it feel being with a new coach?

CF: Good! I was with my old coach, Grant Giles, for almost 6 years. I’ve still got a great relationship with Grant, but after 5 or 6 years of hard work, sometimes you have to make a change. And so far so good with Cam.

JT: What’s the biggest contrast between the two coaches?

CF: They’re both different, but in a lot of ways they’re also similar. It’s the delivery of the program that’s different. Of course, they’re both trying to achieve the same thing. But whereas Gilesy would throw a lot of volume at you, which certainly works for me, Cam will throw volume, but he’ll also mix in a fair bit of intensity. Grant definitely did intensity, but his program was based mainly on aerobic volume. I’m training myself to go a little bit faster again.

JT: Well, you certainly blasted through the first two legs at Cairns!

CF: Yeah, what I’ve been doing has definitely been working. But at the end of the day I’ve still got to train 30 hours a week and sometimes that gets a bit stale. I’ve been a professional for 13 years, so I’m always looking for a change. And I’m feeling confident that this change will get me where I want to go.

JT: 13 years is a long time. What keeps you going after all this time? Because it’s not the money is it?

CF: It’s definitely not the money! There are probably ten thousand professions you’d choose before triathlon if you were looking for the money! No, it’s purely a love for the sport. I love everything about triathlon – I love the history of the sport, I love the brutality of the sport. For me, I think Ironman is probably the hardest one-day event in the world. Especially Hawaii.

I grew up watching short-course stuff in Australia, like Formula 1. That’s what got me into triathlon, but once I discovered Ironman in my early 20’s, I’ve never really looked back on that passion.

JT: That’s not quite true though is it? You came close to throwing it all away not so long ago.

CF: About two years ago I met Kendall and yes, I lost my focus a little bit. And in triathlon with a lost focus you’re exposed come race day because everything’s got to be 100% with this sport. It’s too hard to turn up at 90% and get a result. You have to be on at least 95 – 100% of your capacity. But I still love the sport. And right now I’m going through a phase where I’m really loving the sport and doing anything I can to be as fast as I can.

JT: Do you think it’s possible for athletes not lose their focus or is this something that everyone has to go through?

CF: I think everyone goes through these times. I look back and I’ve definitely had a few periods in my career when I’ve hated the sport. The last thing I wanted to do was to go out to ride in the rain. That’s just human nature, I think. No one wants to go out and get cold and wet. I do love it, but at the end of the day it’s also my job. Some days you’ve got to remember that and just get the job done. But I’d say 100% of athletes who have had a career spanning more than five years have gone through some pretty dark periods.

JT: Is there a particular time when you thought, “That’s it… I’m throwing it in”?

CF: At the start of this year, I was almost done. I’d had a bad year and a half, just under-performing. There were a couple of little bright spots where I thought “I’m on here, I’m coming good”. But then I’d get back into a rut and lose focus. But for some reason I just kept ticking on. There was an inner desire to keep pushing on, but it was really tough. Then at the start of this year I went and raced down at Geelong and I hated it. I was miserable. I came home and told my wife I was going to quit and I was going to get a job.

JT: What stopped you from walking away?

CF: If it wasn’t for my wife and my family I’d be surprised if I was still here training and racing triathlon. But Kendall said to me, “Are you going to regret this?” So I kept a little bit of light training going. It was enough to keep the momentum and then that passion just grew and grew and grew. I’m glad I pushed through that period. But at the end of the day it was my wife and my family that kept me pushing on. And that’s huge, because at that stage I was lost – I wasn’t sure what I was doing, I had no confidence in my racing and they were the ones who put that fire back in my belly. They’ve reignited it, that’s for sure!

JT: So you feel like you’ve got the fire back?

CF: Yep. The fire’s definitely back in the belly. I feel like I’m 18 again and now I’m really going after it. It’s certainly nice getting up in the morning with that sense of direction.

JT: You’ve had a reputation in the past for being hot-headed and not coping with criticism too well. When it comes to past history is there anything you regret?

CF: Cairns a few years ago… I was sitting on Luke McKenzie’s wheel and the officials gave me a penalty and in the heat of the moment I blew up at the official. I stormed into the penalty box, done a big skid and then I threw my bike. Yep… I threw my bike. I threw my Giant and these guys are paying me thousands and thousands of dollars to be riding their equipment and I totally disrespected the equipment and my sponsor. I’m not proud of that. I was a bit of a young hot-head in my mid-twenties. I learnt a lot from stuff like that. There was a lot of arrogance. Sure, you need a bit of confidence to race well. But I found it really hard to disconnect from my race head from my normal brain. It was just unprofessional.

Now I’m striving to be professional in every way. Fortunately, we’ve got guys like Jan Frodeno, the current world champion, who is a true professional. It’s so good for our sport having a guy like that because it gives all of us someone to look up to and it’s also a gauge of the level of professionalism that it takes to get to the top. I mean, I was talking to my strength and conditioning coach who had been talking to Frodo’s conditioning coach. The first sentence Frodo said to his coach when they met was that he had a 2% discrepancy in leg strength! Two percent! 15 or 20 years ago competitors were still drinking beers! The sport’s certainly changed. You can see that in the results too – the times are getting quicker.

JT: So what do you say to the critics, because there are always people who want to tear you down?

CF: Early in my career I was really sensitive to what media and the public said about me. I used to go and read the forums. It wasn’t until February this year that I realised that all of that, no matter whether it was positive or negative, that’s not my opinion. And at the end of the day it holds no value with what I’m doing. So now I think it’s water off a duck’s back if someone wants to say something about me. In the past I’d retaliate and send messages and I’d waste energy on something that was so irrelevant. I’ve realised the better I’m doing, the more of it I’m going to receive. So I’m trying to see that as a positive. I’m like – this is good, I’m doing something right. What do they say? No media is bad media!

JT: That’s a pretty major shift in your thinking.

CF: I think my core values are a lot different now. I’ve got a wife, I’ve got a baby on the way in 12 weeks. The reality of being on a single income for the next 12 months hit me in February – I’m having a kid, my wife’s not going to be working. Either I start racing well or I get a job. That was the brutal reality of where I was at. And my training, my headspace, everything shifted within a week of committing to what I was going to do. All the ‘one percenters’ are getting done now, there’re no shortcuts. And now I’m seeing good results through my completion rate with my training. And my professionalism away from training as well… I’ve actually accepted that I am a professional triathlete and this is what I’m doing. You know, for ten years I told people I was a professional triathlete, but I never really believed it. It was kind of like, “Yeah I’m a professional triathlete, but I’m going to be a coach when I’m finished or I’m going to be a nurse or something like.” Now I say, “This is what I’m doing!”

JT: That idea of shutting down your other options and saying ‘either I sink or I swim here’, that’s pretty motivating.

CF: Being a guy, I’ve always been a bit all over the shop. Yes, I’ve had that one main focus of triathlon, but I’ve just bought a house and I’m married now and we’re having a kid. I’m a lot more rooted into the ground than I have been in the past. And that’s helping my focus.

JT: So, it sounds like the headline should read, ‘Clayton Fettell comes of age’. He’s done the teenage, angsty, flighty thing, now he’s a bloke who’s got responsibilities and he’s stepping up to the plate. If you had to describe yourself now in a few words, what would they be?

CF: I’d like people to see a different Clayto. Smarter. More professional. Mature.

JT: When it comes to getting onto the podium, what’s the missing piece for you? What do you need to add to the arsenal to put it all together?

CF: For me it’s the strength of hanging on in the run. My running has gotten better and better every year for the last 10 years. I’m learning now what I have to do and I feel I’m strong enough to do it. I think it’s a matter of time until I crack that top tier in the Ironman.

Q: Talking about running, it was impressive to watch Berks come from behind in the run at Cairns with a 14 minute deficit!

CF: I should have won that race! You don’t get off with a 14 minute lead and not win. But that’s what I mean about those ‘one percenters’. If I’d been doing a bit more strength/endurance stuff, if I had actually gone and had a proper bike fit, if I’d had the massages, those back issues wouldn’t have been present. I wish I’d been doing them because I’d probably have $50k in my bank account from Cairns, which I don’t! They’re painful lessons for an athlete to learn.

Fortunately Berks is one of those few guys I’m happy to see do well, because he’s a great mate of mine. We go back a long way – he used to come up to my mum and dad’s house at Alstonville and we’d smash each other for a month and then go and do some racing. We live 5 minutes apart now. It’s nice to have a mate who’s going for the same goals you’re going for, but we’re enemies on race day!

JT: I couldn’t help but notice that the first ten guys out of the water in Cairns were all Aussies. How much of a difference do you think the Australian swimming/surf culture makes in the swim?

CF: As soon as we see choppy conditions, I think most Aussies rub their hands together. Most Aussies in triathlon have done surf lifesaving at some time in their life. Swimming in the chop is so different to swimming in still water. It’s an underrated training tool. In Cairns, even I was uncomfortable in the chop and I thought, yeah, I need to do a bit more training in crappy conditions like this. It’s a completely different style of swimming. You see the Euros and the Americans and it’s hilarious. They can’t wade, their surf skills are horrible and they can’t sight in the chop. It’s those little fundamentals that Aussies have learnt as kids. I’m finally getting rewarded for doing surf lifesaving every Sunday.

JT: Thinking back over your career so far, what would you put in the highlight category?

CF: I have a lot of highlights, like my first USA 70.3 win at Mooseman 70.3 in New Hampshire. I’d seen a lot of the guys I train with go over there and not win. So it was my second year away, my first real year doing 70.3’s and I won a race. The following weekend I won another 70.3 in Kansas, so in six days I had two 70.3 wins. That was huge for me. And I so arrogant about it! I thought, “Gee, I feel sorry for these guys… I’m so good!” But I learnt a lot. You go from feeling unbeatable and then two weeks later I got smashed. Triathlon is a beast! I’ve had some big wins. Like in 2008 I was the Australian Under 23 Olympic distance champion. That was great, but it wasn’t pivotal.

It’s funny… I got third in a 70.3 in Cairns in 2014, but I had a quick run split and that to me was such a big, big day, because I proved to myself that I can run. I ran myself into third place and that instilled a lot of confidence. I know now I can do it.

JT: We’ve talked about regrets, but at the age of 30, what are you most proud of?

CF: All my 70.3 wins have been from the front. I’ve never run through and taken a win, I’ve won it on the swim and bike. To me, that’s my best, because when I do that I do it alone. I swim from the gun, I go and I lead wire to wire. It’s about being the best guy on the day alone. I don’t do it with other guys around me. There’s still a lot of drafting in our sport and I’m really strongly against that. That’s why I walked away from short course triathlon, because I wanted a sport where you have to be strong across the board. That’s not taking anything away from the best ITU guys – I think they’re amazing athletes on swim, bike and run. But our long-course focus is on an individual athlete in particular. The highlight is winning a race on my own. For me that defines a dominant performance.

JT: Clayton, thanks for sharing some of your fascinating journey with us. We wish you all the best for the birth of your child and of course, for the rest of the season.

Jeremy (Jez) Thewlis is a writer, adventurer, motivator and keen communicator. With a strong background in sociology and teaching, he's always been fascinated with the art and science of human performance and the pursuit of excellence. Curious, blunt and irreverent, he's continually looking for the story behind the story, the hidden gems that can both entertain and inspire.

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Interview

Ironman Cairns: Kate Phillips’s Ironman Debut A Celebration Of The Possible

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Every athlete has their own journey to the start line of an IRONMAN but there are very few who have endured so much and triumphed so graciously, as Brisbane’s Kate Phillips. When Kate makes her IRONMAN debut at the Cairns Airport IRONMAN Cairns Asia Pacific Championship (10 June) she will not only tick off an item from her impressive bucket list but will prove without doubt that “Anything is Possible”.

Kate describes herself as a sporty and active person trapped in a body that simply didn’t want to play ball, in fact, it really didn’t want her to play anything. It wasn’t until her heart and lung transplant in 2013, at the age of 27, that a whole new world was unlocked for her. Now five years after the intense emotion of a miraculous and traumatic operation, Kate is about live out yet another one of her dreams.

Kate’s journey of medical intervention began early on. Born with congenital heart disease, at 10 months she had open-heart surgery to correct the hole in her heart but miraculously she had a relatively normal, although monitored childhood. It wasn’t until her teenage years that she really started to get sick and the deterioration of her heart started to take its toll.

“Throughout my childhood, I was very fortunate to play as a normal kid but I always had restrictions. I could never really run more than 200m at a time without passing out. So I could never do school cross country or anything like that. I played soccer and stuff and loved it but I was frequently subbed off. I loved sport but I wasn’t necessarily great at it and couldn’t do it very long. ‘”When I hit 13 that things started to deteriorate and a glandular virus at 16 further weakened the heart muscles, so pulmonary hypertension and congenital heart disease just started to regress.”

At 23, Kate presented to the hospital with a pulmonary crisis. Overloaded with fluid, her lips were blue and she struggled to walk. Specialists immediately started her on daily drug therapy but that was not a cure and as it would play out was only postponing the inevitable. At the outpatient appointment, some months later, Kate’s already precarious world, really got tipped upside down, when she went into cardiac arrest during a ‘six-minute walk test’.

“It was in front of my mum and a lot of medical people. I was lucky to be in the hospital when it happened.”

Kate managed to stay away from surgery for another three years but eventually, she exhausted all medical possibilities. Transplantation was her only option and she was placed on the national emergency register for a heart and double lung transplant.

“Having the heart and lung combo, a rare combo, kind of freaked me out as well. My doctor had only done one before me, so I was thinking I hope he has read all the textbooks. I was terrified but more for my family because at that stage it is just out of everyone’s control and you just worry more for them. There was no other option, so it was the only time I have ever been excited about seeing the surgery doors.”

“I would love to say that it was like the news about people who wake up and all of a sudden they are ‘Oh my god, I can breathe’. It is nothing like that. I was incredibly sick and I was very fortunate to be on the transplant list when I was. The process is quite rigorous. You have to be seen by almost everybody in the hospital, you have to have psychological testing, your family have to be seen by the psychologist and there is all this stuff to ensure you are the very best fit so donor organs aren’t going to waste. You are in hospital for a week and you are screened and tested for everything.”

“Once I got are through all that and finally listed I immediately went downhill and into heart failure. I wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital until organs came available, so during that period I lost a lot of muscle and everything I had left was really depleted during my time in the ICU. Which meant I was going into the transplant a bit weaker and my recovery was a bit slower than others.”

A month after the transplant Kate was finally sent home, her recovery started to accelerate and she started to hatch realities that had previously only been dreams.

“I forced myself, every day, to go for walks around the block. I was so excited to be wearing joggers and be outside walking because I had never really had the need for them before. Every day I would be challenging myself up hills and every day I was getting stronger. Before I would avoid them or make excuses because I simply couldn’t get up them and be able to walk and talk at the same time was amazing”

“There were a lot of little things too, things other people take for granted, like laying flat in bed. I didn’t realise people could lay in bed without tonnes of pillows to prop themselves up at night. That full lung full of air is just amazing and I had never realized how amazing it is,” she recalled.

Kate had been waiting all her life to be fit and strong and eventually, her impatience got the better of her.

“About a month after I got home, it was a beautiful day and I thought stuff it I am just going to run. I just started running and it was such a surreal experience because I had always dreamed of running and not getting puffed. It was so weird, it was like I wasn’t short of breath. I looked like a duck because I had no muscles in my legs but I was running and I was so excited. It was such a great moment. Once I was able to, I really hit the ground running.”

Kate had always been a swim, ride, run tragic, with her family, friends and her husband at the time all into triathlon and despite being permanently “subbed off” due to her heart and lung condition, she still yearned for the opportunity to be the same as everyone else.

“I was really inspired by all that, sitting on the sidelines thinking ‘One day I definitely have to do that’. I was just itching to get out there and be a part of it. It is such a great thing and I don’t think people realise how much community support there is in triathlon until they are a part of it. It is so exciting, an athletics day for adults and I kind of caught that bug.”

Two months after the transplant Kate walked the 5km Bridge to Brisbane. Twelve months later she did the bike leg in her team with her brother at Noosa Triathlon and the following year, she did her first sprint triathlon at Raby Bay, backing up a month later with her full Noosa debut.

“I had always targeted Noosa because I had watched that race so many times and it felt like such a local race to me having grown up on the Sunshine Coast. There is something so special about the Noosa Tri and I just lost it at the finish line. Even running into the finish chute I had tears in my eyes, I was so overwhelmed. Even now, just thinking about it I tear up.”

“It sounds so stupid but as soon as I got the transplant I remember lying in hospital waiting to ask the doctors whether I could one day do the Noosa Triathlon. To finally have done it, it was so amazing and to have my family on the sidelines cheering me on, rather than me cheering them was amazing. I will never forget that.”

Kate took another giant step in 2016 completing IRONMAN 70.3 Cairns and with that under her belt she is now in full preparation for Cairns Airport IRONMAN Cairns Asia-Pacific Championship. A challenge that is taxing her physically and emotionally but one she is determined to conquer.

“Talking to my brother recently telling him how I am having so many self-doubts about the race. I hate that because I have always been so positive but really we should look at it as how much of a privilege it is stressed and anxious about trying to get through an IRONMAN, rather than waiting for donor organs. It really puts life into perspective when you look at it like that. I am so lucky to be freaking out about this rather than waiting for a second chance.”

“I have been to Cairns before so that is why I chose to go back and do the full IRONMAN there. I like that I have seen the course before and I really enjoyed my time up there. I love the looped run course around town at the end. I am really looking forward to going back there and getting it done,” she said.

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Dr Andrew Graham Fulfilling An Ironman Promise for a Mate in Cairns

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How do you honour your best friend of more than 30 years and someone instrumental in changing your life? Well, one way is to fulfil your promise to your mate and complete an IRONMAN, knowing you haven’t done enough training and that it is going to hurt like hell.

That is the plan of Cairns local, Dr Andrew Graham, who on Sunday 10 June will swim, ride and run in honour of his friend Greg Parr.

As an IRONMAN finisher and one of the country’s leading orthopaedic surgeons, with vast experience in the field of survival training, Andrew is fully aware that he hasn’t had the ideal preparation but he is comfortable with the fact that it is, what it is.

“I did the original triathlons in Queensland back in 1982 but gave it up for a long time. I was always wanting to do the IRONMAN because I had seen Hawaii on TV, so in 2012, I did the first my first IRONMAN with my mate Greg Parr, with whom I had done a lot of seven-day adventure races.”

“I had cracked out a pretty good swim and ride and I was in the tent feeling crap, completely nude with a towel over myself chatting to a volunteer. Then there was a voice behind me, ‘What the hell are you doing, get up you lazy bastard’. I knew who it was without turning around and I said ‘Greg, just leave me alone, all I want to do is sit her for half an hour’. The only way I was going to leave the tent was if he was prepared to hold hands and skip for the first km. Sure enough, this six feet two, high powered lawyer did it.”

Andrew said Greg had an awesome outlook on life that was simply infectious.

“He would always say, ‘What would you rather have, time or money?’ He always chose time. As a lawyer, he refused to work more than four days a week and always spent the fifth day training for triathlon with his wife. They were both passionate about it and he was such an inspiration for me.

“About six or seven years ago I was in private practice, had an ulcer and was burning up and going loopy. He was the one who convinced me to go back to the public hospital where I am now because I love teaching the young doctors and I hadn’t done it for fifteen years. He is the man who convinced me to do that and changed my life and IRONMAN has changed both our lives for the better. Then he goes and dies, the bastard,” he said with both a deep sadness and a laugh that acknowledged their closeness.

“Greg had a sore shoulder for a couple of years and I investigated it and found cancer in his lower lung. We did everything known to man, including having his lung resected and all sorts of stuff. At the start of the year I promised Greg I would do this year’s IRONMAN with him and we both knew in our heart of hearts that is was probably going to be his last one. Unfortunately, he died seven weeks ago.”

“His wife Sharmie is an absolute passionate IRONMAN supporter who has completed 25 IRONMANS and multiple Konas is too upset to do this race this year. I promised him, so I have to do it. So I am going to wear all his gear, his helmet and I expect to take at least half an hour in transition changing into his riding gear. Greg used to always run with a straw hat on, god knows why, so I have his hat and a lovely photo of him laminated which I will carry on the bike and on the run,” Andrew said.

Andrew’s preparation is unique at best. He has been away in France with his family taking his father to the WW1 sites where his grandfather fought and a week in Africa with his daughter who was doing a medical placement in Malawi in Africa.

“Unfortunately the most exercise that involved was me opening a beer at 12 o’clock every day in the back of a 4WD because clearly I wasn’t allowed to get out and run around with the lions. When I was in France I was with my dad who is pretty crook, so the only exercise I had was pushing him around in a wheelchair with him in tears most of the time, understanding what his father went through.”

“That was my program for five weeks but in the last ten days, I have upped it. My swimming program has consisted of buying a pair of goggles and the day before I bought a pair of togs. I have been a surf lifesaver for twenty years so hopefully, the muscle memory with come back. The running program has been two runs in Paris, where I got lost, and the cobblestones are so hard that I had to take a lot of beer and Panadol at night to ease the pain. I think that was the Lord telling me not to do any more running,” Andrew laughed.

A 58 year old hardcore mountain biker and with a part-time job as an outdoor guide working with a bunch of special forces soldiers who run an adventure company that specialises in extreme or survival type trips, Andrew is hoping his residual fitness, his love of his mate and the support of the Cairns community will be enough to get him across the line.

“I have to stay vaguely fit for those times when they drop us out into the middle of the Kimberleys and have ten days to get back, finding your own food and water. I joke about not training but through my speciality in wilderness medicine I know exactly what can happen, so a lot of my race will be trying to take things carefully and easily with food and drink.” 

Andrew is very passionate about Cairns and the IRONMAN’s impact on the local community.

“Everyone really gets behind this race and the IRONMAN helps and inspires a lot of people. Putting these events on around the country improves the health of a lot of folks. It might only be two per cent but so many people after the race up here say that they were so inspired by the people in the IRONMAN that they have gone off walking, walking the dog, playing tennis or whatever. Mums and their kids are out there at 8 o’clock at night cheering people on and it is just lovely to be a part of that,” he said.

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Ironman Cairns: The Comeback Trail Leads to Cairns for Mildura’s John Fisher

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Training in Sunraysia with four layers of clothing to protect against the brisk morning air, Mildura’s John Fisher isn’t complaining, he is just happy to be up and about and dreaming of the warmth of Cairns and his IRONMAN comeback on 10 June.

One of the Gold Coast’s triathlon early adopters of the late 80s, John lost touch with the triathlon when he moved to Victoria for work and study, but eventually making his debut at IRONMAN Australia in 2013 and then racing IRONMAN Melbourne in late 2014.

“I originally got into IRONMAN through a friend of mine who passed away from cancer. He was hoping to make the event but didn’t quite get there, so I actually did that race on his behalf. But in late 2013 and throughout 2014, I got quite ill. It was a mystery and no one could work out what it was. I ended up going to a doctor in Melbourne who diagnosed me with a thing called Fibromyalgia, which is a cross between a chronic fatigue and arthritis.”

“Fibromyalgia is incredibly painful and I would get up shower and have no energy so I would go back to bed. It affected the whole of my body, you suffer constant migraines, your body is in total pain and even talking is painful .It is debilitating to the point where you wonder if you are going to get better. Some days you wouldn’t have a bad day and others it would come back. But most days I would be bedridden.”

Dramatically restricted by the soul destroying and debilitating condition, John credits the remarkable Turia Pitt for providing him with the inspiration to kick start his life and literally get him back on his feet.

“I went to IRONMAN in Port Macquarie and I happened to meet Turia Pitt who was racing there and she inspired me and I ended up doing a seven week program that she had over the internet on motivation. I thought, ‘That is it, I am sick of lying around’. So I got up and started walking.”

“I remember the first day I got out of bed and was walking along, tripped over a driveway, fell on my face and this old guy came over, picked me up and asked me if I was alright. I walked back to the car and thought ‘I am not going to do it. That is it, I am finished’. But I fought my way back and went down to the oval and did half a lap, a few weeks later did another and slowly got better.”

“That half a lap turned into a lap, then a kilometre. I started off from scratch again with everything, swim, ride and run. I couldn’t even get my leg over the bike when I started it was so hard. When I did a reasonable training session it would take me about a week to recover, it was that bad. I didn’t get better straight away, it came and went over a three year period. The doctor said that I would find that after a while the good days will get longer and the bad days will get shorter. At the moment I am feeling pretty good, so I am bit excited.”

“My first actual race back that I tried was Busselton but they had to cancel the swim. I got onto the bike and I thought I am feeling good I am going to do this and I got cleaned up by another rider and ended up in the medical tent and told not to continue. So I was devastated so IRONMAN Cairns is me having another crack. It is my comeback race.”

“Cairns is a significant race in a lot of respects. I have lost another friend to cancer, a friend of 39 years that I used to train and do a lot with and he has been my inspiration as well. He had a saying that I placed on my cap that I train with and every time I am feeling down I look at it and keep going. It says “Every day is a beautiful day’. Before he passed away he just said to me ‘Keep going’,” John recalled.

The small contingent from Mildura has put all the hard work in but there is no pressure, all they are focused on is getting their fair share of the warmth of tropical sun and enjoying all the region has to offer.

“We have a little bit of a team going up to Cairns, four competing and a couple coming with me have been really inspirational in helping me out. So it should be good. They have told me I have to finish, there is no stopping.”

“We were training in four degrees this morning with three layers of clothes and a jacket, so I am hoping when we get to Cairns we can ditch all the layers and get down to normal training gear. A transition here at the moment would take about 30 minutes. We are going from one climate to another so it will be interesting. I have never been to Cairns so I am really looking forward to getting away and we are staying for a few days to take in all the attractions up there.”

“I used to do about 13 hours but I just happy to be competing and finishing will be a bonus. I don’t care about the time. If I cross that line it will be the happiest day of my life,” John declared.

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Interview

Emma Pallant: From Amateur Runner to World-Class Triathlete

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BMC Team Camp Lanzarote 2018. Photo: James Mitchell

British triathlete Emma Pallant has just won a gold medal at Ironman 70.3 Barcelona last weekend for the second year in a row. She also holds a silver medal from the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, and she became the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Duathlon Champion and British Duathlon Champion in 2015.

Trizone chatted with Pallant before the Barcelona race about her 2018 season. She shared stories and insights about her training, an injury from a December bike crash, another injury in April, recent victories, and her outlook on upcoming triathlons. She also chronicled her evolution from a runner to a duathlete to a short-course, then a long-course, triathlete.

From Runner to Triathlete

Pallant began training for triathlons in 2013 after she met her first triathlon coach, two-time Olympian Michelle Dillon. Pallant had a solid running background, but little experience in swimming and cycling. She already had a number of injuries as well. When she told Dillon she wanted to be a world-class triathlete, Dillon took her in with a great enthusiasm that surprised her.

Pallant joined Michelle’s Team Dillon that year. During her tenure on the team as a resident, which spanned through a good portion of 2016, she participated in a number of short-course and Olympic distance duathlons and triathlons. However, she learned that it just wasn’t her thing. “With the swim not being my strongest, I was always chasing the leading packs on the bike,” she said.

BMC Team Camp Lanzarote 2018
Photo: James Mitchell

Training for Ironman 70.3 Triathlon

The swimming handicap, along with obstacles preventing her from trying out for the Rio Olympics, made Pallant decide to look into longer races. In 2016, she set her sights on Ironman 70.3 triathlons. Each course features a 1.9km swim, a 90km bike, and a 21.1km run. This makes the swim leg a smaller percentage of the race.

While Team Dillon now includes long-distance athletes, they mainly specialized in short-course races at the time. Pallant wasn’t ready for longer ones in the beginning. “I was fainting in races. I was always dying at the end. Every race was a trial on the nutrition front,” Pallant said. Luckily, she had access to a nutritionist and medical professionals within the team.

By the end of the year, Bob De Wolf, CEO of BMC Vifit Sport Pro Triathlon Team, contacted her. She soon joined the team, which includes a number of world class triathletes from around the world. Like Team Dillon, it also includes a physiologist, a doctor, a masseuse, a nutritionist, and other professionals.

Like Team Dillon, members are dispersed geographically. They often come together to do “camps”, or periods of intensive training. They also meet up before and after triathlons. For example, when Pallant and some other members learned they were all going to race in Barcelona in 2017, they made plans. “We planned on an extra week so we could eat together and talk about our experiences. We each did our own training. It was kind of cool being able to hang out and do the same things,” Pallant said.

Pallant recalled conversations between team members that were educational as well. “I think it’s fun, and it’s really good for the highs and lows. If one person didn’t get the outcome they wanted, we can learn from the good and the bad. I think, definitely, as a team, it makes you stronger for sure.”

2018: A Podium Finish & a “Did Not Finish” in South Africa

Pallant was injured in a mid-December bike crash, but she still managed to make the podium at Ironman 70.3 South Africa 2018 the next month. “I did rehab, and I decided to race a 70.3 at the end of January. It was to motivate a kind of acceleration back in. I came in second there,” Pallant said.

The silver medal gave Pallant motivation to aim high for her first full-distance triathlon, South Africa’s Ironman African Championship in mid-April. “Ultimately, this is the distance I want to do,” she said.

Pallant re-joined her Team Dillon family at the end of February. She worked as a coach in a week-long training camp for age-group triathletes in Mojacar, Spain. She also spent a few weeks training for the African Championship there.

Unfortunately, Pallant had to settle for a “Did Not Finish” in South Africa because she injured a nerve in her calf during the bike leg.

“My calf went out halfway into the bike. I was trying to get lower in positioning. I’m quite flexible. I do yoga. I thought I could get down into a more aero position. But then, if you’re in that position for five hours straight, well, you know,” Pallant said.

She continued, “I assumed it was a cramp. I treated it as a cramp, and I didn’t run for a week. I had a load of deep tissue work done on it. I couldn’t run with it off the bike. It just felt like it was on fire. It didn’t get much better. The physio and masseuse worked on me at the BMC camp, and the masseuse said I had a trapped nerve in L5. We treated that, then I was back running.”

Flipping Disaster on Its Head & Winning a Gold

Unexpected events can disrupt plans, especially if you have races in the near-future. About such setbacks, Pallant said, “I couldn’t plan my goals much because I didn’t know how long it would take to heal.”

For her, the calf injury and other unfortunate events aren’t really setbacks, however. “Sometimes things are gonna go wrong that you weren’t expecting. To deal with it, that you did not finish, it feels pretty rotten. But then I think you can change that, flip that on its head,” Pallant said.

She continued, “As soon as I’m refocused on the next goal, then I just use that as the drive. I’m looking to my next race, and looking at what I can learn from this. What areas did I learn from the race that did go well, and what can I implement in training? Whether you win or lose, I think you should respond the same. It’s still education. It’s still your plan. You can use it in exactly the same way.”

The injury caused Pallant to cancel her spot in Spain’s Ironman 70.3 Marbella, which was at the end of the month. However, her impeccable resilience and winner’s mindset soon paid off. She won a gold medal at the Mallorca Olympic Triathlon just three weeks after the injury.

A New Love for Full-Distance Ironman Races

Despite the mayhem, Pallant found during the African Championship that full-distance races are the way to go.

“I was actually really relaxed going into the race,” Pallant said. “To me, Super League, a much shorter race, was a nightmare. I’m not the quickest in transitions. Literally, you make one mistake and that’s it. You’re out. At the Ironman, I went in with a particular mindset. If you mentally know what you can handle because of what you’ve been through in training, then you know that, whatever happens, you can get to that finish line. It made me respect the event a lot more.”

Winning in Barcelona. What’s Next?

Pallant has just finished with a gold medal at Ironman 70.3 Barcelona on May 20th. That’s not too surprising, as she has a couple months of great training sessions behind her. Next up is the Ironman 70.3 Samorin, just two weeks later.

Trizone asked what she expects for that race. Pallant said, “It’s leading into summer, and it’s totally the kind of course that I wouldn’t normally choose to go to. I’m going only because it’s such a fantastic event, and a lot of the top girls will be there. I kind of have been persuaded to do it. I still think it’s good course to work on your weaknesses, for trying to make yourself a more robust athlete.”

She further elaborated on the course. “I think it’ll be a pretty fast swim, a really big power bike, and I think the run course has a little bit of everything,” she said. “It’s a fast kind of road surface.”

Regarding the calibre of the race, she said, “I think it’s a massive event. They have loads of media, and they’re going to do a pretty good job of covering it. They also want to help the pros with accommodation so that we get the best view. Hopefully, that makes for an exciting race.”

Tough Competition Ahead

The “top girls” Pallant expects to see are last year’s podium finishers: Lucy Charles, Annabel Luxford, and Heather Wurtele.

“Annie Thoren will be key in my race,” Pallant said. “She’s super strong on the swim. I need to hold onto her on that and on the bike because her run is phenomenal. I definitely think she’ll be a massive contender.”

Training & Recovery Before Challenge Samorin

About her training before the event, Pallant said, “We’re just gonna try to get as many bike power sessions in as possible. The swim and the run won’t change a massive amount. I’ll be doing really hard work on the bike and just trying to get my strength and power up as much as possible.”

Pallant is confident that the two weeks between Barcelona and Samorin is sufficient time to recover for the latter.

“I can probably do 3 or 4 races in a row, and then I need another training block,” she said. My training’s very high volume. I find that the more races I do, the better. The tapering drives me a little bit mental, so I have to be careful. I have Staffordshire, which is the weekend after, so another 70.3. It’s just a matter of swinging that in. That’ll be enough.”

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Matthew Hauser: Behind the Scenes of the Commonwealth Games & What it Took to Get There

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Matthew Hauser is becoming a household name among triathlon fans. The 20-year-old’s most recent victory was the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games mixed team relay triathlon. He competed on the Australian team. In the elite men’s individual triathlon, he came in fourth. He also earned a silver medal in the International Triathlon Union’s (ITU’s) 2018 Mooloolaba World Cup. He first made a name for himself after winning the 2017 ITU World Cup in Chengdu.

Trizone caught up with him to talk about his struggles leading up to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and his performance, training, behind the scenes stories, and his plans for the future. He also spoke about the Mooloolaba World Cup and other highlights of the 2018 season.

Injury & Uncertainty Leading Up to the Commonwealth Games

Last year, Hauser had a stress-related fibula injury that almost prevented him from competing in the Commonwealth Games. He told Trizone, “I was kind of panicked. It was just before selection. I wanted to get to a point where I would be selected, but then I was against the clock with this injury. It was a stressful lead up. I had the flu and this overhanging injury on my mind. I had a relapse as well. I was starting to get some run fitness back, and there was some stress in the bone just before Christmas.”

In the months before the Commonwealth Games, media outlets were asking Hauser for comments because he was a Gold Coast local. This occasionally made him nervous, because it reminded him that the pressure was on. “I felt like there was a spotlight on me, being a local athlete,” he said.

Good thing for Hauser, there came a point when he changed his perspective and training focus. He was also surrounded by a supportive crowd that included his coach and training partners. This helped alleviate his anxiety.

“I always had this belief in myself that my body would be alright on the day of. I just started focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and trying to climb that ladder to peak fitness. It was a slow journey. It felt like it took forever, but all that shifted my focus away from the pressure of the Games. At that point, it wasn’t about how I’d perform there, but about getting fit, and getting the body into shape again. That helped with the psychological side of things,” Hauser said.

Hauser’s performance manager, Justin Drew, told him that February’s Luke Harrop Memorial Games would decide whether he was ready for the Commonwealth Games. They both understood this was the race that would “get rid of all reasonable doubt that I was not ready for the Games.”

Renewed Hope at the Luke Harrop Memorial Games

The first race of the year can be a bit annoying and unpredictable. After building his run up to a mere 25-30km per week, Hauser was a little uncertain how the Luke Harrop Games would go. He was counting on a strong bike performance.

“I managed to lead for the first 5-10km or so, and then came back to the group,” Hauser said, referring to the bike leg.

Due to water quality concerns, the swim leg was canceled. That left only the bike and run. During the run, Hauser’s main goal was to stay as close as possible to fellow Australian triathlete Luke Willian.

“I could definitely feel those 25-30km weeks toward the latter half of the first run. I think one run would have done me fine. To have two in there was a bit of a struggle, but I managed to hold on. I got as close as I could to Luke in the end, but he was too strong,” Hauser said.

In the end, Willian claimed gold with a time of 49:16. Hauser won silver just six seconds behind him.  This was when things started looking up for the Commonwealth Games.

It took one more race to seal his full confidence: The ITU Mooloolaba World Cup in March.

Mooloolaba Podium Finish Seals “a New Lease”

There were only a couple weeks between Luke Harrop and Mooloolaba, so Hauser was pretty confident leading into the latter. He also knew it would be a challenge. He was up against not only Willian, but also USA’s Matthew McElroy and South Africa’s Richard Murray.

The prep for Mooloolaba was centered around mindset.

“I just tried to emulate the mindset of successful races in the past, like Rotterdam. I think I really nailed that mindset leading into this race. I knew I had to recreate that mental state, in order to be prepared for the Commonwealth Games as well. Just focusing on staying in the moment, and creating opportunities for myself, and not letting others dictate the race. I think that was really important,” he said.

By this point, Hauser was feeling much better about his run.

Hauser reflected on the experience, “I knew I had the legs on the run. Richard Murray just flew off from the gun, and I had to pace myself with a few others behind me, like Sam Ward and Matt McElroy. Catching Richard toward the end was a big confidence boost of mine. I said to myself, ‘If I can get this close and I still have a few weeks left, then I can get a little more work in and see how it goes.’”

Murray, Hauser, and McElroy took gold, silver, and bronze, respectively, within a span of eight seconds. Murray finished in 53:09. Willian finished eighth in 53:44.

It was a near-perfect moment on the journey toward the Commonwealth Games.

“When Luke Harrop happened, and when Mooloolaba happened, it was like I had a new lease on life. All that stress released, and I thought ‘I’ve got nothing to lose now,’” he said.

Arrival at the Commonwealth Games

Up through Mooloolaba, Hauser successfully kept his anxiety in check by keeping his mind focused on the here and now. Apparently, it was a winning strategy. After Mooloolaba, he continued this mindset during his training sessions and performances in the Commonwealth Games.

The strategy worked well. “I went into the games quite relaxed. I was just trying to enjoy the experience. Just being there in the moment and not letting the mind waver or run to the finish line too early,” Hauser said. “It was critical to my prep. The nervousness and excitement turned into potential results.”

By the elite men’s triathlon, Hauser began to realize that this long mental and emotional journey, before such a high profile event, was just a normal part of the sport.

On the morning of the triathlon, Hauser got up and did what he calls a wake up jog. Afterward, he prepared for the day by going through notes he created in his iPhone. He, and other competitors, also had plenty of time to watch the elite women’s triathlon and see how the women did on the course.

When he arrived at the site of the men’s start line, he went into tunnel vision mode. “I just wanted to get on the start line,” he said. “[To] any volunteer who came to me, I said, ‘not now. I’m in the zone.’ I kept it relaxed until that two or three hour buffer, when I’m checking in and doing all this stuff before the race. When you keep it relaxed, you can really intensify the psychological side of things during the crunch time before the race.”

Muscling Through the Swim

Despite his successes with the previous races, Hauser didn’t have enough points for an ideal position on the start line. This handicap wasn’t a big deal to him. He said, “I had to reassure myself that, no matter where I was on the start line, it was all about the first 200-300m to the first buoy.”

The swim wasn’t easy. “For the first 100-200m, I just had to muscle through it.”

He was surrounded by the Brownlee Brothers, Tayler Reid, Mark Austin, and other big name athletes. “I was comfortable heading there in 5th or 6th behind those guys. I felt like I had the energy on reserve,” he said. Hauser exited the swim in a leading pack of six.

The Bike

The leading pack kept a good buffer into the bike, but Hauser began with a struggle. “The first five minutes was a tough time for me, especially trying to assess the slickness of the surface with my tires, and getting a feel for the corners,” Hauser said.

Hauser looked to the Brownlees to lead for the first few minutes. He said, “When you got people as experienced and strong as the Brownlee Brothers, you have to let them lead you around the course for the first bit, because they’re probably the least likely to make mistakes out there.” He kept a close eye on Alistair Brownlee and watched how he turned corners.

Hauser quickly “got into a groove” and settled in with the group. The corners “became second nature by the end of the bike,” he said.

“They Just Lifted Me”: Deafening Audience Erases the Pain During Run

Hauser, along with Reid, was one of the first onto the run. Mark Austin and Jonny Brownlee followed. The first half of the first lap was rough. His legs were in pain. He could barely breathe, and he was waiting for the people behind him to run past him.

When he began the second half of the first lap, it was the crowd who helped him propel to his near-podium finish. “They just lifted me,” Hauser said. “I could no longer feel the pain. It just slowly went away. I was like ‘Now that I got through that, I can get on with the race.’ I knew I was a stronger runner.” It was game on for the rest of the run.

This is when he was able to give the crowd what they wanted. Hauser said, “I picked up the pace, and the crowd was so bloody deafening. It was crazy. It was almost like they took the pain away from my legs. I was running on excitement and energy.”

At one point he watched fellow Australian and mixed relay teammate, Jake Birtwhistle whiz right past him. Hauser felt happy for him, knowing that Birtwhistle put a lot of energy into this race. He knew that Ryan Scissons and Richard Murray would be right behind Birtwhistle. A quick glance in back of him confirmed this.

“Scissons came up behind me and sat on me for a bit, and tried to go around me, in that second lap. I held onto him and used the crowd to attack him with 400-500m to go. It’s funny that I was so concentrated on Scissons,” Hauser said.

In the final 400m, Hauser spotted Mark Austin ahead of him and decided to catch up with him. He said, “He looked up at the big screen and saw me closing in fast. I think he kind of sh#t himself there.”

Hauser came in fourth in 52:46, just behind Austin. It was both a joyful and painful moment. “I put that little bit extra in and crossed the finish two seconds off the podium in the end. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I was also super excited that I came back and recovered from my early minutes on the run and finished it off,” Hauser said.

Taking silver and gold were Birtwhistle (52:38) and South Africa’s Henri Schoeman (52:31). The first four finishes spanned a brief 15 seconds. The podium finishes spanned 13.

“Hungry for More” at the Mixed Team Relay

The mixed relay triathlon was two days later, on Saturday, 7thApril. The Australian team was announced on Friday morning and included Hauser, Birtwhistle, Ashleigh Gentle, and Gillian Backhouse.

After the elite men’s race, Hauser spent some time with family members who attended the events. The team got together on Friday evening. Hauser described the mood that night.

“We really revved ourselves up. We were kind of still hungry for more. We knew we had a point to prove after the world champs last year. We thought England would be tough to beat. They just came off the champs in Glasgow. Reflecting on all our individual performances, we were really excited to give that gold medal a crack,” Hauser said.

The team didn’t create much of a strategy other than deciding the order of participation in the relay. On Saturday, they looked at the board to see who they were up against. They all had a pretty good sense of what to do during the race. Hauser said, “In the end, it was a team thing, but it was individual performances stacked on top of each other. I think that’s how we went into the race.”

Australia/Britain Showdown

During the early stages of the race, Backhouse and Britain’s Vicky Holland lead the way. Five minutes before the changeover, Hauser and Jonny Brownlee had a brief strategy session. As Hauser describes it, “It’s just Australia and England now. We should work together on the swim and bike, and then really distance ourselves, and leave it to the run to see who changes over.”

Nullifying the Jonny Brownlee Threat

Hauser and Brownlee were tagged by their teammates roughly five seconds apart. Hauser recalls the swim. He said, “Brownlee had a buffer on me, but I think I caught up to him in the first few strokes of the swim. It was good to be on his heels then. We worked really well. I think we put in 10-15 seconds into the other guys, even though there were three of them. I tried to drop him with all my might and power, but he was too strong in the end.” He noted that he stayed close enough to Brownlee to nullify any threat.

UK’s Learmonth Stumbles After Bike, Securing Australian Win

The deciding factor in the race was an epic showdown between Gentle and Britain’s Jessica Learmonth.  Learmonth left the water about 15 seconds before Gentle, but Gentle caught up with her on the bike. During the transition to the run, Learmonth stumbled while dismounting the bike, allowing Gentle to sprint ahead.

Gentle tagged Birtwhistle, who turned a 39 second lead over Alistair Brownlee into 52 seconds. Birtwhistle crossed the finish line. Australia won gold with a time of 01:17:36.

Once Birtwhistle entered the run, the Australian team knew they had already won. Gillian, Gentle, and Hauser greeted him at the finish line to a roaring crowd.

A Win for the Home Team & the Sport of Triathlon

Hauser recalled that moment. “It nourished our hunger. The gold was really good. Embracing him at the line was a pretty special moment with the crowd going off,” he said. “I think it was a bit of Australian pride, knowing we’d given something back to the Australian public and contributed to the medal tally for the Australian team. I think it was a special time for us because, obviously, triathlon isn’t the main event in the CWG.”

Hauser noted he felt that the victory lifted the status of the sport of triathlon within Australia, possibly inspiring future generations of Australian triathletes.

Hauser Gives Credit to a Supportive Community

Hauser had relatives, training partners, and others who shared his glory after the gold. Some fellow triathletes were also able to console him after his two-second deficit from the podium.

One such person was Australian para triathlete Nick Beveridge. Beveridge is one of his training partners, and he’s now his roommate. Hauser was able to watch him perform in the para triathlon on the same day as the mixed relay. Beveridge won a silver medal that day.

Miles Stewart, retired triathlete and CEO of Triathlon Australia, congratulated Hauser and helped him put his fourth-place individual triathlon finish in perspective.

“He said he’d come fourth a lot of times, and that just really made him hungry to get to the podium the next time around,” Hauser said. “Reflecting with him on that was pretty cool, because I could definitely relate at that point in time. The hunger was definitely there to keep on keeping on. Knowing I was two seconds off the podium was a massive confidence boost. Looking to the future, it was kind of exciting to see that he went through the same thing, and it motivated him to go on to win seven world championships.”

Hauser credits his family for all their support through the years. About them he said, “They (parents) have been fantastic. They haven’t pushed me into anything. They’ve been there to support, and love. I come from a very Christian family. A lot of values and morals. We’re centered around that, so I’m very thankful for that and the upbringing. Having them there, and helping to keep me very grounded, it’s massively important.”

Hauser noted that people often not only congratulate him on his race performances, but also for having great parents. Both parents sacrificed a lot to help him and his sister pursue their careers. His sister is an actor in Brisbane.

Hauser’s mother also attends every single race, so her support is very visible to others.

“I can always hear a distinct voice in the crowd,” he said, referring to his mom. “I’ve heard it throughout my sporting career. Just having that reassurance that they’re there supporting me and loving me. It’s pretty fantastic.

Next Stop: Yokohama, Then Tokyo

After a week of celebrations following the Commonwealth Games, Hauser began training for ITU’s World Triathlon Yokohama, which is on the 21stof May.

Yokohama is a sprint distance triathlon. What’s motivating Hauser even more is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the prospect of which is allowing him to expand his horizons and train for longer races.

“That’s the next step,” he said. “Tokyo will be Olympic distance, so I can’t really shy away from it any longer. I’m just excited to push myself and train to get to that next level, and prove to myself whether I can really perform under those kinds of distances. And prove to the rest of the ITU circuit as well. I’m really looking forward to the challenge. And pushing my body to that kind of level.”

Tokyo will be the first Olympic Games to feature the mixed team relay triathlon format.

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Interview

AFL Champ Brent Staker Makes Triathlon Debut at Mooloolaba

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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.

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