Hello everyone, hope this finds you well and you haven’t completely forgotten about me!
My email updates are few and far between these days. Even my social media presence is fairly quiet recently, and I do st times forget I have supporters and friends following with me for this ride all around the country and world. So I thought best to do a quick update for everyone as I make the long trip home from Europe as my 2023 season comes to a close.
My racing experiences this year have been, as always a bit up and down. Following on from a frustratingly annoying 2022 season I was really motivated to train, race and show what I was capable of. My first real race of the year in Devonport in March was a decent performance for me, finishing 4th and showing signs of a good start to the season. Whilst I was firing on all cylinders physically, I wasn’t in the best spot mentally. I remember starting the race as the gun went off and instantly questioning ‘Why am I even doing this?’
I’m a big believer in that mental health, strength, focus, whatever you want to call it, is far more important than being physically fit for me. Yes the physical prep is obviously very needed but if I’m not enjoying myself, racing or life in general I do really struggle to race and perform.
This period led to a fairly rocky few months for me, finding myself fairly injured for a few months, missing a few races and deciding I could coach myself, because surely it couldn’t be that difficult! (Spoiler alert, it was very difficult). If I’d lost my love for the sport earlier in the year it was well and truly fading at this point in time as the Melbourne winter continued to kick in and I tried to build myself back up before racing again.
The start of June 2023 marked the beginning of the 12 month Paris Paralympic Qualification window. To qualify for the Paris Paralympics next year I need to finish ranked in the top 9 in the world in my PTS4 classification. We have 12 months of qualifying races, and our top 3 performances and results give us ranking points. So it means I could have to race 3 times to qualify, or I could be chasing races and points up until the window closes the end of June in 2024.
The start of the window coincided with two World Series races in Canada and Wales in July. Whilst I was far from fighting fit I knew I needed to get over to the races and see what I could do. It’s always easy to sit from afar and decide I could’ve performed, but actually doing it on the day is very different. I knew within about 2 minutes of the first race in Montreal that I was not at the level I needed to be, and spend the next hour holding on for dear life, finishing dead last. I had the exact same result a week later in Wales.
Whilst never nice to get belted on the race course, the trip and performances gave me a bit of a kick up the backside that I needed. I had learnt first hand coaching myself had been fairly unsuccessful, and that I didn’t like having to do all the training solo. I missed my team mates, I missed the group and I missed enjoying the process. Tail between my legs, I rejoined my previous group and made an effort to take everything on board, do as I was told and try to use the pain of losing recently as motivation to get back to where I was.
Fast forward to the end of September marked being selected and competing at my third World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain. The months between July and September had been hard work. 3 months in the Spanish summer, training as hard as I could, whilst juggling full time university commitments was a challenge, but something I’m glad I was able to balance and manage.
I’d felt like for two years I kept telling my coach, sport psych and support staff that I was just dying to put together a swim, bike and run in one race that I was proud of, the results would be irrelevant if I was proud of how I performed and followed process. To add a little spice and pressure to the situation, the World Championships is the most important race in the Paris Paralympic qualification window on the level of points an athlete can score. I had never finished a World Champs higher than 11th, which is far from where I needed to finish for a successful points scoring day.
Without being too dramatic, this race was a little do or die for my Paris campaign dreams. Racing such a strong competitive field and knowing all the background noise of qualifying and points floating around I was actually more relaxed, and content than I’d been in a while before a race (a far cry from where I was at in Devonport in March if you remember back).
My race at World Champs was the race of my career. I had a great swim, and took a strong position on the bike at the front of the race and managed to hold my own against the best of the best. That 5km run I don’t think I’ve ever ran more scared, knowing the number of athletes behind me attempting to chase me down. I was scalped by a few, but managed to hold on for dear life and finish 6th in the world! It was a day I’ll never forget. A day where I finally was able to put together a swim, bike and run I was proud of and had known I was capable of for the preceding months and years.
In a clutch moment where the pressure was high, and everything was on the line, I’d never been more relaxed and more excited to race. Yes I was in great shape physically, but again proving my point that where I’m at mentally plays a far more important role in racing and life than where I am physically.
World Champs usually signifies the end of the season but there was three more opportunities to race in Europe in the following month in Portugal, Spain and Italy. I chose to do all three, not necessarily out of wanting to, but not wanting to leave anything to chance in an important year. I’ve said all along that if I was to miss qualifying for the Paralympics, but I’d done everything in my power, I would be disappointed yes but I couldn’t ask anymore of myself. I couldn’t stand the idea of looking back thinking, what if?
Racing came around very quickly in Portugal, and I had found it hard to keep my head out of the clouds post World Champs, and my race in Portugal was not a fairy tale day, but in fact a bit of a slap back to reality. I was tired, stressed and not interested in racing. Bit of a trend starting to form here! I didn’t have a day worth noting too much about except it hurts to lose. My sporting hero is Andre Agassi, and in his book Open he talks more about losing than winning. Winning was nice, but he appreciated and felt far more when he lost. I really resonate with that and that level of thinking.
Two weeks later in Malaga, Spain I donned the race suit again, but here I was relaxed, content and having a good time and racing a similar field than Portugal, it could’ve been easy to stress for a similar result. A lot can change in two weeks though! Again, put together a swim, bike and run I was capable of, and managed to finish second and secure my first international podium and World Cup medal in one! A memory I will again, be very thankful for and not treat lightly. I competed in my first World Cup in 2018, and along the years have come near and far from that podium, so it was nice to get that monkey off my back.
My final race in Italy the following week was an Allen’s lollies mixed bag. Had a good front end of the race but wasn’t able to finish it off unfortunately. 4 races in 5 weeks across 3 different countries. A major learning experience, and whilst at times very challenging, very rewarding.
The qualification window racing couldn’t have started off any worse, but the season couldn’t have finished off much better than it did. Two really special and significant results in what had been a up and down year, both on and off the race course. If the qualifying process above doesn’t make sense, you may be thinking, has he made it? Short answer, no. There’s still a long and busy six months of racing ahead in 2024 to tackle, but I’m excited for the challenge and ready to see how it all plays out.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for following along. I at times get very focused on myself and my performances and training, that I forget that I’m luckily surrounded by a really amazing group of friends, family and supporters near and far, that have enjoyed celebrating my recent successes as much as I have. So thank you for your support over the journey, big or small it’s made an impact and I’m hoping to keep you more updated throughout next year.
Cheers, much love Liam.