I have been social media friends with Gaelyn for a while and we have been watching her journey to Ironman 70.3 with interest and awe! In 2011, a simple surgery left her with a complete left-sided drop foot. Instead of dampening her spirit she successfully lost 40 kg and started her own company called A New Weight to help others turn around their lives too.
Oh, and she entered the Ironman 70.3 in East London. No biggie 😉
On her personal blog – Heart Of Iron – she tracks her progress, shares her challenges and struggles and gives you a little insight into her life. Every single word is honest and completely her.
A few days before the Ironman challenge, we asked her if she would be keen to answer some questions for us in an online interview which we could then share here. We absolutely love her answers. They reflect her honesty, positivity and humour perfectly!
We hope you enjoy the interview and find a source of motivation or inspiration to tackle your own challenge – whether it be physical, mental or spiritual.
What made you decide to be one of the 3000 athletes took part in yesterday’s Ironman triathlon in East London which is part of the Global IRONMAN 70.3 series?
I have always been sporty and love a good challenge. To be honest I hadn’t really ever known much about Ironman events until I moved to East London, which hosts the only 70.3 event on the African continent. Once I had seen the emotion and pride and passion and celebration of the athletes at the finish line for the first time, something in me was ignited and I knew I wanted to experience those feelings too.
Have you always been into competitive sport? What kind of sports did you do at school?
I played water polo and did water polo on both junior and senior provincial levels. I was naturally athletic, taking to most sports fairly easily.
Tell us about your day yesterday – you unfortunately overheated and collapsed? What were your first thoughts when you realised that this had happened but that you were ok? Have you thought about whether you will embark on this challenge again?
Because I was unconscious, I had no memory of what had happened and as soon as I realised I was in hospital asked my husband whether I had finished. I felt utterly devastated when he told me I hadn’t even made it to the half way point on the bike. At this stage I will focus on shorter distance races, I don’t think I will attempt another 70.3 for a couple of years, if ever. It is a huge commitment and I always promised my husband that as he stood at my side supporting me, I would do the same for him, 2016 is his year for Ironman!
What is going on inside your head whilst you swim, cycle or run? Do you have any mantras that you repeat to yourself or do you envision yourself or a reward of some sort at the finish line?
Funnily enough, I do a lot of singing! When I swim I sing to myself which keeps my arms moving at a constant pace. On the bike, I do a lot of deep thinking, it can get really lonely, especially on longer rides. My husband jokes that he knows he’s in for a treat when I start a sentence with “So I was thinking on the bike this morning…”! I like to stay mindful of where I am, the scenery, the company, the ache in my legs or the burning in my lungs, I like to be present. When I run I have a mantra which has really helped me get through some painful moments. I chant to myself “I am unstoppable”. During my races I visualise myself crossing the finishing line, having an ice cold coke handed to me, and seeing my team mates, friends and family’s faces celebrating my achievement. As you can imagine, this often leads to a few emotional tears along the way!
Do you prefer the swim, cycle or run?
Definitely the swim, it’s the easiest for me, the most comfortable, and unless I swim a particularly long distance, causes minimal pain in my bad leg.
We have been following your journey on your personal blog, Twitter and Instagram; what has the support been like from your readership / followers throughout and after race day? Have there been any naysayers and how do you respond to them?
I have been blown away by the support. Absolute strangers messaging me and commenting on my posts saying how they believe in me, encouraging me, offering words of advice and just showering me with love and support. There have been a few who told me I couldn’t do it, or that I was setting my sights to high and heading for disaster, but I have a thick enough skin to smile and carry on anyway. Some comments make me cry, real big crocodile tears, not because they have been mean, but because some people are just so unbelievably kind. It’s been an amazing example of how beautiful humans can actually be.
In 2011 a simple surgery left you with a disability. How do you think this has impacted your determination to take on challenges such as Ironman?
I often wonder whether I would have done it, or been as driven to do it had the surgery never happened, I suppose there is no way of knowing. However I do know that I have become so much stronger, resilient, and developed a rather twisted self-deprecating sense of humour because of it. I feel like I have a lot more to prove, to myself and to the world. I also truly believe that my story and my journey could really touch people, and inspire them to tackle their own personal goals and challenges. Reading about a super fit able bodied already awesome woman attempting an Ironman doesn’t quite have the same reach as a formerly obese, part time single step mom, self-employed, long distance marriage disabled one!
These challenges are both physical and emotional. Which do you find more difficult and what advice would you have for our readers that often take on similar physical and mental challenges?
This is a tough one. I would have to say emotionally, as physical pain is something everyone identifies with and experiences to some degree throughout their lives. When I run and I find myself unable to take a step further and calling my husband to fetch me, I am overwhelmed with physical pain. But pain killers and ice can relieve that within a day or two. There is nothing I can take to ease the emotional pain of being disabled and unable to do what I used to be able to do or should be able to do.
Preparation for something like this is obviously critically important. What did your training and eating program look like? Did you enlist the help of professionals?
I joined a triathlon training group here in East London called Swim Bike Run Coaching or SBR. I had a swim, bike and run coach who did all my programming for me. I trained 9 days a week pretty much nonstop for 8 months. I ate a lot, to make sure I had enough energy for the workouts – some days I trained twice a day, others once, some workouts were 45 minutes long and others last 4 or 5 hours! I adapted my A New Weigh eating programing to support the endurance training with the help of a registered dietician who specialises in endurance nutrition,
You had quite a stressful month before race day with both your dogs having medical emergencies / procedures done. What advice do you have with regards to coping with something as stressful and unavoidable as this so close to something that you have been planning and training for?
Focus on survival!!! Seriously, you go into fight or flight mode and somehow your body figures out what to do. I tried to stay mindful each day, when I was training I tried to keep Zeus and Zara out of my head, so that I could get maximum benefit from the workout. It was slightly easier with Zeus as his cancer was not an acute emergency. Zara’s neck injury was life threatening and I unfortunately took 2 weeks off training to care for her. Once both dogs had stabilised I tried to get shorter, harder workouts in rather than longer easier ones. Make the most of the time you have to spare each time you train, make every step, stroke or pedal count! Also, let go of guilt. It really is the most wasted emotion and serves no purpose other than to drain you. Sometimes life hands you challenges you could never have seen coming, but every obstacle can either be seen as a rock to knock you down, or a stepping stone to greatness, you choose!
With other priorities such as your family and running your business, how did you fit training into your schedule?
I am a single step mom to Zoe every second week, and with a husband who works abroad half the year this really makes it tough working it all out. I relied on friends to assist with babysitting, some days Zoe came along and joined a coach or manager as water girl, and other times I had to skip the session and accept that motherhood comes first. Whenever my husband was home he was an incredible support, driving behind the team in a response car to keep us safe, bringing us water and nutrition on long sessions. My business is along the same line so my clients often loved hearing about my training and got tips and ideas for new challenges for themselves. I work from home so was able to nap during the day after heavy workouts (sshhh don’t tell anyone) and approached two of my successful past clients to come on board as agents to assist me, allowing me some more time off.
Did you ever doubt yourself or think, “Why am I doing this?”
At least 3 times a month! I think that’s completely normal though, to not have doubts makes you arrogant, and arrogance causes injuries. Doubt made me work harder! When a session got the better of me, I would ask whether perhaps the dream was too big, but it didn’t take long before someone wonderful would snap me back to reality and remind me what I had signed up for, what I was chasing, and why it was all completely worth it.
If someone has been inspired to take part in Ironman (or any kind of challenge) what would your advice be?
DO IT!!!!!!!!! Make the commitment to stop at nothing until your dream comes true. I knew that the only thing that would prevent me from getting to that start line would be an injury, or my family responsibilities. Enlist the help of friends and family, explain what the journey entails and how they can help you. Get a great coach and training group (there are tri groups in almost every city in SA) to support and guide you, and just throw yourself head first into the challenge. Share your journey online, people love supporting others on their adventures, and Ironman and triathlon are certainly BIG adventures!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions Gaelyn! We also love your full post on the Ironman 70.3 experience which the rest of you can (should) read here. We look forward to supporting you and following you through your new challenges and adventures.