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.
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.