Abraham Lincoln said if you wanted to test a man’s character, give him power. Sport is another equally important judge, as INCH discovered.
THE road to becoming a champion is paved with great sacrifices.
But that’s very often the view of someone looking in from the outside.
American Bart Connor, one of the greatest gymnasts ever to compete in the Olympics, never saw any of it as a sacrifice.
“It was just choices,” he said. “I never felt that I was missing something, only that I chose something else.”
And Olympian Josh Davis, who made history in 1996 by becoming the only man in any sport from any nation at the Atlanta Olympic Games to win three gold medals, said the only thing that he gave up was mediocrity.
Eleanor Haresign, daughter of INEOS’ Cliff Haresign, understands that mindset. She won her first iron distance event – a 1.9k swim, 90k bike ride and 21k run – at her second attempt when she was 35.
“What is a sacrifice to some isn’t a sacrifice to others,” she said. “There are plenty of early mornings, early nights, missed social events, worrying whether you might catch a cold, and feeling exhausted and unsociable. But the feeling of winning or doing well makes everything worthwhile, and it keeps you going back for more.”
In short, you have to want to be the best.
“You have to ask yourself how badly you want it because even the professional athletes are hurting,” she said. “It often helps to remember that there are many people who don’t have a choice in their lives about suffering pain. I am lucky that I can race hard and embrace the pain, and transcend the limits of what I thought was possible.”
But she said it took more than just desire.
“There are certain characteristics that are needed to become the best and not everyone will be prepared to accept them. To win, you need to excel physically, but only being physically strong is not sufficient to be a winner. You must delve deep into your mental reserves to override the physiological ‘symptoms’ regarding fatigue or pain.”
To beat the best, you need to be more focused, fitter, organised and more prepared. You need willpower, determination, discipline, dedication and drive.
For those, like Eleanor, who also have to work part-time to make ends meet, you also need to be able to manage your time effectively.
“People sometimes wonder how I juggle work, life and training, and complain that they don’t have enough time to do any sport but I don’t believe that,” said Eleanor, an environmental consultant. “You just have to find ways to incorporate it into your life. What separates a professional sports person from those at a recreational level, aside from talent, is the willingness to integrate it into every aspect of their lives. It’s not just the training. It’s the nutrition choices, looking after your immune system, sleeping enough, stretching enough. Everything you do outside of training is still evaluated in its impact or contribution to your sporting success.”
Eleanor’s next goal is to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in 2016. To do that, she will need to complete three Ironman events and two half Ironman races over the next 10 months to accrue enough points to rank within the top 35 in the world.
Ironman is a challenge designed for the best of the best and has become triathlon’s most iconic, endurance event. In all, about 3,000 athletes from all over the world will line up to swim 2.4 miles (3.86 k), cycle 112 miles (180k) and then run a 26.2-mile marathon (42k) without a break.
Eleanor’s dad Cliff said he and his wife Carolyn would do as much as they could to support their daughter from the sidelines.
“We started to realise this was turning into something more serious for Eleanor when she started to earn podium places,” he said. “No one undertakes these events lightly. Even completing these races demands great mental strength so it is hard for me even to imagine what it must take to win one.”
Eleanor, who completed her first triathlon on a mountain bike with a pannier rack near St Andrews in Scotland, knows. She now enters races as a professional.
“Triathlon does demand as much mental stamina as it does physical strength but that is what keeps me going back to the start lime,” she said. “But while Ironman events are rather demanding on the body, it also makes you supremely aware of what you can do to have a healthy lifestyle. You simply cannot ask your body to perform if you don’t pay attention to your diet, sleep and immune system.”
Although fiercely competitive, there is much camaraderie amongst the athletes and a real appreciation and respect for one another.
“You see a very special side of the human spirit out there on the race course,” said Eleanor.
Charlie goes the distance
ONE person who knows how tough an Ironman event can be is INEOS GO Run For Fun ambassador Charlie Webster.
The British TV sports presenter completed her first-ever full Ironman triathlon – Ironman UK – in six hours, 20 minutes and 21 seconds.
“Considering I couldn’t swim two years ago and I only got my first bike last year, I was over the moon,” she said after the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
“The weather was everything I didn’t want,” she said. “We had strong winds, it was rainy and cold. But the support was amazing. I felt sorry for the incredible spectators who got soaking wet.”