What do we count as the biggest sporting day in Australia? Is it the AFL grand final? Maybe the NRL grand final? What about Melbourne Cup?
When I was just starting out as an Ironman, racing in some of my first appearances in the Nutri-Grain IronMan series, I had a lot of long blonde hair.
That was a while ago now and in the years since I’ve gone for a different haircut, but earlier this year I decided to grow it back out. I’ve copped a little flak from my mates, but for me that’s been going back to my roots, and it’s made me happy.
Those days when I was just starting out were a great challenge for me. I’d grown up in Kiama – it’s a great part of the world, and practically becomes a ghost town outside of the tourist season. I went to school across the street from the beach and I’d always loved the ocean.
I was a bit average as a nipper. I was in the middle of the pack, and being a competitive guy, that was frustrating for me. When I was a teenager I lost a bit of interest in the sport and nearly gave it away.
I had some great coaches at Warilla-Barrack Point surf club though, they taught me what hard work was and I started to get results. Winning some races sparked the fire for me; suddenly I really wanted to make it.
When I turned nineteen, I qualified for the Nutri-Grain IronMan series. That led to my first pro race at Surfer’s Paradise. I was star-struck, lining up against Shannon Eckstein and Ky Hurst. I thought for sure I was going to come last, but I somehow had a really great debut and finished fourth.
A bit further down the track I realised I owed it to myself to give it a real crack, and to do that I had to make the move to where I live now, in Mooloolaba.
It was a hard to leave a really supportive community in Kiama. I’d always have people stopping to have a chat with me on the street, and it was a great feeling knowing the whole town was behind me.
That being said, the step-up in moving to Mooloolaba was something I needed. It meant training with a lot of other athletes from the series, being pushed and inspired by them, and having access to a great coach in Michael King.
In Kiama I was more or less in charge of my own training, but the great thing about Kingy being here in Mooloolaba is he does the thinking for me and I can focus all my attention on doing the hard work.
I came close to winning in 2011-12, and in 2012 I trained for the Coolangatta Gold and won that, which was a great result. I won my first professional race at Noosa later that year and won the Coolangatta Gold again in 2013. That’s when things took a bad turn.
When I came back from that win I was really knocked for six – just utterly exhausted. It was like my body was shutting down on me. I would sleep for fifteen hours and when I woke still be tired, and whenever I tried to exercise my heart rate would shoot right up.
About a week out from the 2013-14 series, Kingy told me he wasn’t willing to let me go out there. I had doctors telling me I just couldn’t do it, and that was the first time in my life I’d had people telling me I couldn’t do something – and it was something I loved doing.
I’d never been so upset and run down. I packed my bags and flew home.
When I first moved up to Mooloolaba I got in contact with Keegan Smith, the son of former NRL coach Brian Smith. When I went home, suffering from this fatigue, I sent him an email and asked him if he wanted to catch up. At that time he was the strength and conditioning coach for the Roosters.
He helped me change my diet, and become better rested, but really he changed my mind. I started eating differently, gradually worked my way up to exercises, and along the way I just became more self-aware. Keegan really helped me become a better person, and a happier person.
It was one of the toughest times of my life. I spent eighty-something days at home – my dad counted – slowly climbing the ladder. I got great support from my family, my friends, and especially from my partner Kel.
At the start of it I just wanted to be back to normal, but eventually I let go of that, as I started seeing massive improvements. Kingy came down and we trained at my home, right where I’d first fallen in love with the sport.
I mentioned earlier about my hair – how I changed from my old blonde look, but how I’m going back to my roots now. That was really how I got better. I went back to my roots and re-invented myself.
If you asked me what I was proud of in life, it’d be that I got myself back to a hundred percent. My goals in this year’s Nutri-Grain IronMan series have been to give a hundred percent, and to enjoy myself. I wrote those down and I look at them before every race.
In my first race back, I was running up the beach, leading the pack. It was just the best feeling in the world. To get there has been great not just for me, but also for Kingy, Keegan, and my family. I looked up into the heavens and thought, thank you so much. It was God smiling down on me.
WITNESS THE UNSTOPPABLE
The Nutri-Grain IronMan and IronWoman Series showcases some of the most daring and impressive athletes in Australia.
Witness the strength, courage and determination of these super-fit men and women as they tackle brutal surf and sand all around Australia.
Check out the full broadcast on Channel Nine this Sunday or head here for more information