SPEECH: IM WORLD CHAMPIONSIPS 2007

Aloha.

(wolf whistles) – thanks…I will strip later!

I am more nervous now that I was before the race. When I raced nobody knew who I was, now all eyes are on me…..and I have a whole heap of butterflies that have decided to dance the tango inside of my stomach!

It is a privilege and an honour to qualify for, and race here in Kona – to have the opportunity to compete on the hallowed turf of so many triathlon legends and to compete against the best athletes in the world.

To stand up here and wear the IM crown is something that hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I am amazed, overjoyed and incredibly, incredibly overwhelmed.

And for England to win the rugby and the football – now that’s just the icing on the cake! Also have to mention that I am least $10 richer. My two so called friends each bet me $5 that I would finish in 9hours35. I haven’t forgotten and will be collecting the winnings at the end of the night. Or at least make them buy me a beer!

I understand that I caused a few problems for the commentators during the race because no body knew who I was! My friends at home told me that all the commentators had to say about me was that I wasn’t wearing a hat or a visor. I’ll tell you why I wasn’t wearing a hat or visor….that’s because I don’t have a hat or visor sponsor!

As some of you know I came to the sport relatively late. I was always a sporty kid, swimming, playing hockey, running, but never excelling and always more interested in the social side of the sports scene…..I went to university at 18, then travelled the world for 2 years which opened my eyes to the many problems that exist, but also the opportunity that there is for positive change. I knew then that I wanted to work in international development, I did an MA and got a job working for the UK Government on internationa l development policy for 3 years. In 2004 I left to work on Nepal for 18months, and returned to the UK and
my old job last year.

As for triathlons, I did a few in 2004 – on a shitty, 10 year old borrowed bike with toeclips and a surf wetsuit for the swim. I wondered why I sank and came out of the swim in about 35minutes! And when I got back to the UK in 2006 I entered a few races – one of which was the very famous Shropshire triathlon. Which you should all do if you are ever in the UK! I surpassed all my wildest expectations and managed to qualify for the World Age Group Championships in Lausanne. I got a coach, trained like a beast for 10 weeks and managed to win the world age group title.

Then I had big decisions to make. I never want to look back and think ‘what if’. You only get one chance at life and the most important thing is for me to know that I have given it everything and been the best that I can be. I didn’t know where that would take me in terms of triathlon, but unless I gave it a shot
at going pro I would never really know.

So, I was put in touch with the well known coach, Brett Sutton. He took a look at me one wintery week in Switzerland. And by February I had quit my job and was making plans to join my new team – TeamTBB – at our training camp in Thailand.

Its been a great first season! Highlights would be – winning my first ITU race in the Philippines, the Alp D’Huez Long Course race where I crashed and punctured and won by…well, a margin! and IM Korea – my first ever IM.

I never thought then that I would be standing here now. Part of me keeps thinking that it has all just been a dream……but then I feel the pain in my legs and I know that the race actually happened!

I wasn’t actually that nervous before the start. My coach had told me to see it as just another race. The swim was below average for me. 3mins down from what I wanted – but the scenery was good, and when I wasn’t looking at the soles of people’s feet I could look at the beautiful fish and coral!

On the bike it took me about 30km to get going, after that I found my rhythm and felt stronger as the race went on. I almost got blown of my bike coming back down from Havi – and had to hang on for dear life! I caught the leading girls going onto the Queen K highway. And had to decide whether to stay with them or go past. I felt I had more in the tank so I took off. Was surprised but happy to see that they didn’t go with me! I guess it gave me a bit of confidence, and I continued at that pace and rode up to Leanda and Dede about 20km later – I couldn’t really believe that I was leading the IM World Championships! And it
was incredibly embarrassing because I didn’t even have a cool looking aero helmet on!! Once I had the lead I wasn’t going to let it go easily!

I was just hoping that I remembered to pack my run legs in my transition bag. Luckily for me they were there, and I felt strong going out on the run. There were a few niggles on various parts of my legs, but I the chocolate Powerbar gels and the amazing support of the crowd lifted me and seemed to take the pain away!

I guess I never really thought I was going to win until the last 10km. My coach always says that the race doesn’t start until 30km into the run. Its often true, and I was just hoping that I had enough left in the tank to finish strongly – I think I only started to believe it in the final 5km – although I do wish I had checked the course map before the race! I thought the finish was at the end of palani drive, when the motorbikes took a sharp left and along Kuakini. Oh bugger I thought, I’ve misread the mile signs. I had my Union Jack flag ready and had to carry it about a km until the real finish line.

It was worth the wait though!

So where next?

The most important thing for me is to seize the wonderful opportunity that I have to combine my two passions in life – sport and development. The Janus Foundation Charity Challenge has shown that this is possible I worked as a swimming teacher at a day school in Boston, Mass back in 1997 – at a
school called Beaver. I always thought it was great to wear a swimsuit with Beaver written across the front!

And at Beaver i saw first hand what a difference sport can make to children’s lives. And again in Nepal, where sport was one thing that could bring conflict affected communities together.

Sport has a tremendous power – and can be a force for considerable change.
I hope that through my victory here, I can inspire and encourage people – young and old – to take up triathlon and other sports and to galvanise interest and support amongst the media, government and business, both in my home country the UK, but also all around the world, and particularly developing countries.

I want to finish with some thank yous First, a big ‘cheers’ to my coach Brett Sutton and the rest of my team – TeamTTB for giving me that chance. I am able to train with one of the best triathlon coaches in the world and with many of the world’s best triathletes. Two of whom I am proud to say join me on the stage today. Belinda and Rebecca. I have learned so much from them, and it is a
vindication of Brett’s coaching that we are up here on the stage. To Iron Man and all the other race sponsors for their unwavering support to the sport. And thank you so much to the thousands of volunteers who give up their precious time to
help. I spoke just now to a lady called Sammy and she said ‘we are proud to help you realise your dream’. Well without people like Sammy the event would not be able to take place. I know I speak on behalf of all the athletes here when I extend my sincere gratitude to you all.

I also want to say thank you to the thousands of supporters who lined the streets from start to finish. You are the real endurance athletes! The atmosphere was absolutely electric, not just when I was coming down Ali’ii drive, but for every single athlete that crossed the finish line. To be there at midnight to watch the last finishers was amazing and something I will never ever forget.

I also want to say congratulations to all of the other pros. And of course to give a mention to Natasha, and wish her a really speedy recovery.

For us professionals this is our job, we can dedicate our lives to it. I want to save the last word for the 1600 age groupers who swam, biked, ran, walked and crawled their way over the finish line. From the youngest to the oldest. To Scott Rigsby and Kate Bolling and all the others who have overcome adversity and won – you are the true IM and woman – an inspiration.

Mahalo!

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