When All You Have Is Sport
You realise that it is not enough. It is not who you are. It is just something that you do. One of the many things you do. Well, this is the way I looked at triathlon when I first represented Australia as a 17 year old, and it’s the way I’m looking at it now. It is now very clear to me that I must look at it this way if I am going to sustain my career, my passion for the sport and ultimately my results.
It was in 1999, that I first represented Australia at the World Junior Triathlon Championships in Canada. I only made the team because Liz Blatchford, now one of my closest friends, was sidelined with an injury and as reserve, I was called up. Busy finishing my last year of high school, triathlon was on the backburner. Studying, final exams, managing extracurricular activities, getting ready for school formals and enjoying my childhood friendships were my priority. I was still training a little, but triathlon wasn’t receiving that much attention.
Naturally I was over the moon, when I discovered I would be travelling to Canada and competing at the World Championships. This ‘hobby’ sure was paying off more than playing in the third violin section of the school orchestra or Tournament of Minds. With so many other things demanding my attention, I didn’t have time to be over consumed with the event or to increase my training. I turned up as a scrawny 17 year old and finished 4th in the Junior Elite category. I surpassed my own expectations.
This trend of managing to fit triathlon in whilst studying continued for the next five years. I went to university, studied full time, completed my Bachelor of Communication degree, commenced my Masters of Applied Law, enjoyed being a young adult, was inducted into the Australian Institute of Sport Triathlon Program, and continued to represent Australia at Junior Elite and U23 World Championships. I never finished outside the top five and won an U23 World Championship title. I even spent some time selling lotto tickets and magazines at the local newsagent, cleaning houses, and worked as a carer for an elderly man.
After my first year of racing on the elite ITU World Cup Circuit in 2004, being ranked world number one the following year and representing Australia at the Commonwealth Games in 2006, I realised that I could give away the part time jobs. I also either deferred study or scaled it back to a bare minimum. What happened after that? There were years or parts of the year where I combined study with training and competing. Usually I went back to the books when I was injured. My injuries would heal, I would combine both sport and study again, my results would pick up, I’d defer the study again to be a full time athlete and then I’d get injured. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Certainly after transitioning from ITU racing to long course triathlon in late 2012, the overuse injuries decreased drastically; however, the lack of injuries was replaced by mental fatigue. The mental fatigue of being a full time athlete. I questioned why I did the triathlon, what would my life look like post elite sport, and was I fulfilled by just swimming, riding and running. The answer was no. Triathlon on its own is not fulfilling for me. I enjoy learning. I have a curious mind and I’m stimulated by different people, different ideas and different pursuits. When triathlon is all consuming, I spend too much time overthinking the sport and worrying. Worrying about injury, worrying about whether I’ll be good enough, worrying about the next pay cheque, worrying about what I’ll do with the rest of my life. It certainly makes it hard for me to get the best out of myself and my training and racing when I’m exhausted from worrying. I perform at my best when I’m happy. I’m happy when I’m busy, challenged in the different spheres of my life and surrounded by a plethora of people, ideas and interests.
In July this year, I was approached by Charter Mason, a project execution specialist management consultancy in Melbourne. They offered me an internship. Furthermore, they were prepared to take me on as a part time employee which would allow me to continue my athletic pursuits. I did not have to think too long about this opportunity and grabbed it with both hands.
There are still plenty more athletic goals I’m chasing, but I’m also chasing excellence after sport, and that means setting something in motion now, not when I retire from triathlon. Perhaps the biggest win from the Charter Mason opportunity was restoring balance to my life. The balance has been a welcome relief. Currently I’m working for Charter Mason at National Australia Bank at Docklands in Melbourne. NAB is a tremendously flexible place to work, and are very supportive of women balancing work with other pursuits.
I now make every training session count and there are no junk sessions. I revel in the two weekdays where all I do is train, and I’m tired but satisfied on the days where I cram a session in before and after work. I like this life. I rarely train on my own any more. I train with age group athletes who have a similar schedule to me. These athletes are managing families, work commitments and their passion – triathlon. My time spent with these people is thoroughly rewarding and brings a smile to my face.
As I’m looking forward to tackling my first Ironman in Melbourne next year, I’m once again fulfilled. Triathlon now is not my whole life, just a very special part of it. Oh, and not surprisingly, since commencing this new life, my results haven’t slipped. I recently won the Australian 70.3 (Half IM) Australian Championships in Mandurah WA, beating a strong international field. I then backed up a week later to win another half distance race – Challenge Shepparton and recorded my fastest half marathon time in the process. Next year will not be easy and leading into my major races, I shall need to focus a little more on triathlon, but for the whole I’ll be a part time triathlete, and perhaps that will be for the best.