By Coach Rich Thompson
Wendy Conroy is the matriarch of the Conroy/Andrew/Wehlow/Kerwick super family. Both of her daughters are Ironman, both her son-in-laws are ironman. Wendy had traveled to Busso to support her family taking part in the Ironman last December - her daughter, Kim Andrew and Kim's Husband Brett Kerwick were both racing their debut race and T:Zero Multisport Coach, Steve Wehlow was competing in his (maybe) 6th Ironman! It is a crazy family tree, but just imagine a house full of athletes, all somehow related and and Wendy there looking after the kids and putting in a massive day supporting them all. The crew all finished and had a great time doing it!
Now Wendy is known to have dabbled in fun runs (up to half marathons) and a is quite handy in the water, but had never done a triathlon. So it was the the day after the Ironman Western Australia, I had a lightbulb moment! Let's make the decision for her and see how she goes. I spoke with Kim who loved the idea. I was to coach her to the Gold Coast, Luke Harrop Memorial triathlon, the kids would deal with the registration.
Wendy was an absolute pleasure to coach. She nailed every session and recovered amazingly to be ready for whatever I threw at her! But the most important part, she loved it! She loved everything about preparing for the race. We discussed about the race, visualizing techniques and race plan. She had already scoped out the competition and was ready for whatever the day threw at her.
How did she go? 1st place in the W65-69! Unbelievable. One of the greatest debuts on record since Chrissie Wellington in Hawaii. But seriously, from a coaches perspective it was so motivating seeing someone of Wendy's vintage see a challenge like doing your first triathlon, acknowledging the hurdles that need to be overcome and instead of dwelling on them, embracing the challenge of overcoming them. It is certainly up there with one of the best experiences I have had as coach.
Given it is Mother's Day, we thought it was fitting to take have a chat about the experience and what is next for this sprightly superstar!
1. The Luke Harrop Memorial at the Gold Coast last weekend was your first triathlon ever. Being in the 65-69 age group, tell us a bit about your history with endurance sport and how you ended up in triathlons?
When I was younger I was a distance swimmer to state level. Two hundred butterfly and four hundred individual medley were my races where I won State Championships. When my children were young I played a lot of squash for about ten years or more to a pretty high standard. My adult children started doing triathlons and asked me to do the swim at Noosa in a team event in 2010 then the run in 2012. I really enjoyed them but never saw myself doing the whole event. Every time I watched them complete their events they kept encouraging me to "have a go." After Busselton last year I started to believe I would like to try.
2. You had put together a near perfect 3 months of training, what were your secrets to being so consistent?
Fortunately for me I am retired now and can please myself what I do. My husband was very supportive of my efforts to train and given me lots of tips. He has done a few organised long rides by himself (eg Gold Coast to Sydney) so he was always with me on my training rides. I was fortunate to be able to borrow a road bike and learnt to ride it properly with help from Kim, Brett, Steven and Nat. Having trained as a swimmer I was confident if I completed the training set by the coach it would pay dividends on the day and it did. Your program was tough but enjoyable because you added so much variety each week. Being able to have decent naps during the day also came in very handy for recovery.
3. You did amazing on the weekend……. How did the race unfold for you?
On the day I was surprised at how calm I was. Excited but not overawed because I had seen triathlons before and I really wanted to do one myself. The swim was tough because I cannot see very well without my glasses but I took your advice and kept a swimmer on either side and followed a pair of feet. To the first buoy I swam nearly all the way with my head up which sapped a bit of energy till I cleared the bulk then tried to get more comfortable. Did not really because I am used to swimming in a pool and the water was very brown. Had to stop every five breaths to get my bearings. Could not keep up with the feet I had chosen to follow but did my best. Felt good into transition. My bike was in a great position for me to see and I put my glasses on first. I had visualised the routine and it went smoothly I put on as much as possible this first one.(Water to wash off sandy feet was a great tip) The ride was the really new experience for me. I was following three others and we all took a wrong turn after the first lap but realised it and turned back. (A bit like sheep) I kept my mind busy and positive doing a strong cadence. Not too many still riding by the time I finished so hassle free into transition. The run was extremely hot and it felt like 10km not 5km. Poured water over my head and neck to keep cool. Stayed comfortable in a perceived effort pace in the first lap then knowing the course waited to up my effort for the final push to the finish. I did not leave anything in the tank. I had visualised the finish during my long run efforts. Lots of photos but all the fruit was gone and the massage tables packed up, the joys of being the second last wave.
4. You went over to Busso to be the supporter – cheering on both your daughters (T:Zero Multisport athletes Nat Conroy and Kim Andrew) and each of their husbands (Coach Steve and T:Zero Multisport athlete Brett Kerwick) – what are your memories from that day and was there any point during the race you wished to be out there competing?
My memories of Busselton are the electric excitement of the athletes and their supporters. The enthusiasm of everyone involved eg volunteers and organisers was wonderful. To see so many different ages, shapes, sizes and abilities was mind boggling and made me feel that I was not reaching my potential in life if such a varied group could have a go, why not me? As each competitor crossed the finish line tears welled up in my eyes because I knew how much my children and their spouses had sacrificed to fulfil their dream and likewise the others. "You are an Ironman"
5. What is next for Wendy Conroy?
I have to buy a road bike first then I think I could do an Olympic distance tri but Noosa might be too big crowd wise. 70.3? Wouldn't it be nice? Also, I can't thank T:Zero enough for making this dream come true for me. I got lots of praise from my supporters and I even took the luxury of patting myself on the back.
Wendy with favourite son in law and T:Zero Multisport Coach Steve!