Unfinished Business

Everyone loves a good comeback story of someone who scaled the heights then hit the skids, but regained his or her past glory through superhuman effort. Well… It’s a whole lot easier said, than done.
As I sat on the couch, sipping my 2nd glass of wine, I watched a former training partner and friend become the Ironman 70.3 World Champion. In that moment I felt a rush of emotions: Proud, Angry, Happy, Disappointed, Motivated. It was as if someone had doused my dim flame with paraffin. I left my thoughts for two days before I gave Claire Horner a call. “Claire, I want to start racing triathlons again!” Claire: “Ash, what’s taken you so long?” I put down the phone and knew immediately that I was doing the right thing. I had unfinished business that I needed to settle.

It is now 2019, and the last race I did was the 2009 Pretoria ITU Triathlon African YOG Qualifier where I finished first and was selected to represent Team South Africa at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Well, I never made it to Singapore. I got injured 4 months before and had to pull out. I not only pulled out of the race, but I gave up on triathlon and competing completely.
It has always been my dream to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games. As great as the dream is, I had no delusions of grandeur. I knew that the longer the layoff, the longer it would take to comeback. But I was finally ready, and I am prepared for the long road ahead.

I joined My Training Day (MTD) Johannesburg at the end of 2018 and met Travis Johnston, my coach. At coffee, Travis asked me what my goal was, and I said “…to go to the Olympics”… There was a long pause, and I think he thought I was joking. After realising that I was serious, Travis asked me about what training I had been doing these past 9 years, and how fit I was, to which I replied: “None, and I can run the 5km parkrun in 22min”.

2019 Discovery Cape Town ITU World Cup:
It is February 2019, only 4 months of training and I have made it off the waiting list and onto the start line of the 2019 ITU Discovery Cape Town World Cup. It was race day, and I was filled with anxiety as I looked at the competitors around me. I knew that my build-up to the race was short and inconsistent. In those 4 months I had been overseas in India and off training for over a month. I was realistic, and I had 3 goals in mind: 1) Get some ITU points, 2) Do not come last, and 3) Have fun!

I stood on the pontoon getting ready for the swim start, when all of a sudden half the field of ladies dived in. What was going on? I looked left and right and figured that I better go as well - Goal 2) Do not come last. We dived into the washing machine and swam for about 200 m before being stopped by a wall of boats in front of us. It was a false start and we had to swim back. Oh no! Now my wetsuit is filled with water, and I am cold! Being 157cm, and weighing 51kg, we thought a size small would fit, but it did not, and it was too late to find another wetsuit to borrow. It was this one or nothing.

The horn blew again, and I dived into the washing machine once more – but could not feel my arms. It was going to be a long 750m. I exited the water and was not last – goodie! I have always enjoyed cycling, so I was excited to jump onto my bike (I had been practicing my flying jump) and ride hard to catch the chase pack. Who was I kidding, I could not feel my legs either. I must have kicked so much in the swim (because I could not feel my arms), that my legs were now so sore, that each pedal stroke was an effort.

Goal 1 – Get points. I was in a group of about 6, and we worked hard to catch the chase pack on the bike, but these girls are in another league and miles ahead. We got to the end of the bike and it was time to take my feet out of my shoes. I kept on thinking “Dismount before the line Ashleigh”.

We transitioned onto the run, and my legs felt like jelly. I struggled to catch my breath as the girls set off onto the run at quite some speed. I have just started training, I have no top-end speed. Goal 3 – Have some fun! About 3km into the run, I started to feel my legs again, I was feeling comfortable and able to pick up my pace. I was cheered on by the most amazing crowd of people whom were so happy to see me back racing. I was on cloud nine, I was having so much fun!

My race was far from perfect and it did not go as planned, but I was able to achieve 2 of my 3 goals and I saw that as a small victory. In sports, just like in the workplace, it’s important to celebrate the small wins. Everyone is looking for the big win, not realizing that big wins come from the accumulation of small wins.
Winning is a process. Winning is not the high that comes with standing on a podium. Winning is the hard work and sacrifices that happen behind the scenes. Winning is a process but TRUST THE PROCESS! The comeback is always stronger than setback.


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