Jodie Swallow is one of the fiercest competitors in triathlon, her complete swim-bike run arsenal is as potent as anyone. Yet last year a plantar fascia tear left her frustrated as she often led after T2 only to hobble to a DNF with a painful, dysfunctional foot. Finally, the foot came round and in her first hit out in 2012, she won Ironman 70.3 South Africa and comes into Abu Dhabi with her old confidence .
ST: What was the hardest thing about being injured much of the year?
Jodie Ann Swallow: The worst thing about being injured is you have to train throughout. You swim very hard and you can bike very hard but you always have in your mind your training partner is going out running. My boyfriend is going out running., and I am dropping behind every day. No matter how much you try.
ST: What were your injuries?
Jodie: I tore deep sections in my plantar fascia which started at the end of 2010 [after her Ironman 70.3 World Championship gold]. I am not sure why it happened. But after I ran and I tried to race and train through on it.
ST: Through all that, you had decent results - up to a point?
Jodie: It was decent. But I am a runner and people forget that. When you compare my run times, I am jogging. My results were decent at first. Wildflower [6th place after a jog on the run] was a week before Ironman St. George. I tried to run the half marathon at Wildflower to see if I could run the marathon in St. George. I think I have to accept that last year I made decisions. And Brett made decisions. They proved to be the wrong decisions. But they were decisions we made based on the best information we had at the time. So after St. George (in which she led to T2 but had to withdraw on the run). I realized how bad it was. That is something I've always struggled with.
ST: Many people think Brett Sutton overworks people and ruins their careers. But I have seen him take very good care of individuals. What happened with you?
Jodie: I think everyone makes wrong decisions in life. And in sport and everything else. Brett and I were very close., It was not anything to do with him trying to trash people. Tossing eggs against the wall, as I have heard. It was nothing like that.
ST: So what was your experience with Sutton?
Jodie: He cares more about his athletes than anyone I've ever met. Maybe too much sometimes. You know, we have very different views now. But at the time I was completely with Brett. I'm not going to say anything bad. And that experience will benefit me in my future. He taught me to be myself. To be tough. Maybe not to be tough through injury. But to be tough in training. Tough minded in racing. Not to let anyone influence me to be anything other than myself.
You get as lot of new stuff in triathlon. You get new technologies. I don't necessarily believe you shut up and get on with it. I'm strong enough now. But only because of Brett. I know I am myself. And I am a champion for a reason. And I must maintain that reason all the time.
ST: When did your foot first get signs it was cured and you could run again?
Jodie: I was trying to get ready for the ITU Long Course World Championship in Vegas. I was running up a mountain, jogging along. Couldn’t do it any more. I had been training all summer and it wasn't particularly bad that time, that day. It was just wrong. Well, the fact is, I had been training on it all summer trying to get ready for ITU Long Course Worlds and I don't like to train if I am not in top shape. So I went home.
ST: Your strongest support through all this?
Jodie: It is very difficult for anyone who wanted to help me because when I am in trouble I am a very introverted person and I'll keep everything to myself. James Cunnama my boyfriend definitely got the brunt of that issue. He was also injured at the time.
ST: What is James like?
Jodie: He is very 'logical' would be the word. And I am not that at all when I am stressed out. So we balance each other very well. We were both injured and I think he definitely helped me through my injury. And he makes me happy in general life, apart from my injury. And so I started run again a bit in December.
ST: Did it all go smoothly?
Jodie: Still I had a lot of problems in my calves. My fascia needed major, major treatment. So I got ART relief in Stellenbosch. But it got better and it will get even better. I've been running for 20 years.
ST: When was the best it's felt so far?
Jodie: If you asked me that question now, I'd say last week. But it was tremendous the week before and the week before. Then the week before was the best session I'd ever done as well. I got on the track in January just before SA 70.3. I raced and beat Lucie Zelenkova, who was 2nd, and Tine Deckers, who was 3rd. It was not a world record performance. It was not meant to be. It was a nice introduction back to racing. I biked brilliantly and I got through the run. Now I am trying to develop on that.
I am on the journey again.
ST: How did you prepare for 200km on the bike?
Jodie: I trained a lot. I always have. Stellenbosch is really windy and really hilly.
I have been biking mostly on my own which I think is important. It is tougher than cycling in packs. It is tougher mentally and physically because you can't ever take the break and draft.. You must give it all when you ride on your own. No shortcuts. I get angry when people call me a swimmer-runner. And I get angry when people call m a swim-biker as well. I get angry in general. I am a swim-bike-runner and I am really proud of that fact.
ST: What led you to this race?
Jodie: It is straight, It hasn’t got any corners. And I'm obviously racing for Team Abu Dhabi as well. It is our home race. And it is important to be visible in Abu Dhabi as one of their own. So I have to race here. But I wanted to race here anyway. They look after the athletes amazingly. No other race in the world does this for their pro athletes and that is important.
ST: You were operating without a sponsors for a while after you left Team TBB. Was it a big relief to get signed by Team Abu Dhabi?
Jodie: It was a major relief. signing with Team Abu Dhabi over the winter because after a year off from injury you haven't won anything. People tend to think professional athletes are well off but are seriously completely scraping the bottom of the barrel most of the time. Unless you are coming off a world championship or you have a very consistently injury-free year. It is important to come here to perform well for money and for my sponsors.
ST: Daunted by strong field here.?
Jodie: I never get daunted by strong fields. I get daunted by my own ability sometimes. But not by strong rivals.
ST: What percentage are you off your best form?
Jodie: You would have to ask James. I don’t notice how I am doing comparatively.
James Cunnama: She is 90-95 percent for 70.3s. But she is somewhere around 80-85 percent on long races like this and Ironman. I went running today and I felt like I did at Clearwater in 2010. So we will see.
ST: Happy now?
Jodie: I am happy. I have ghosts and demons as I always have done. and I always will.
ST: Demons fueled by anger and perceived slights?
Jodie: I think what a lot of people don’t know about me is my personal life. The problems I have had in my personal life outweigh anything I have had to go through in triathlon. People think it is bad what I have had to deal with my injury in triathlon.
ST: What happened in your personal life?
Jodie: I was in an abusive relationship for four years. Yeah, that outweighed any torment I have had this year. The real torment was how I felt emotionally when I went into races during that period. That far outweighs anything I went through last year when injured.
ST: James has been your staunch ally during this period hasn’t he?
Jodie: James is great.. Yeah he is so good to me and so good for me and we are happy. I hope I am as good for him as he has been for me.
ST: You now know you will never ever let such an abusive person into your life again?.
Jodie: No. I hope that I can try and help other people in similar situations. I am not in a position to do that right now. But hopefully during my career I can do some good helping people and understanding people who are going through what I did. I think. I can help them.
ST: Did being with Brett Sutton's squad of athletes help?
Jodie: More than the squad, Brett himself. People are nasty about Brett and his ;past, but Brett is a loving person and whilst someone else might be in an abusive relationship and be controlling and also violent -- Brett is anything hut that. He is not that at all. He just supported me and helped me through that. And now I am in the reconstruction phase.
ST: James is a good partner to have.
Jodie: He is a very, very kind man. He is also he is also very good looking. CHUCKLES Besides that, he is very kind and that is what people don't realize about James. He is very kind, genuine, and moral. And that is a rare thing in this day and age.