Jackie Fairweather RIP

Jackie Fairweather, the 1996 ITU World Champion in triathlon and duathlon, 2002 Commonwealth Games marathon bronze medalist, first coach of the Australian Institute of Sport Triathlon Program, high performance manager, coach, event commentator and ITU board member, died on Monday one week before her 47th birthday.

Australia’s Gold Coast Bulletin reported that Fairweather took her own life, but so far no official sources have confirmed a cause of death.

Fairweather, who competed on the ITU circuit from 1992 to 2000 under her maiden name, Jackie Gallagher, won the ITU Triathlon World Championship in 1996 and won silver medals in this event in 1995, 1997 and 1999. She also won the ITU Duathlon World Championship in 1996 and 1999. Famed for her run, she was a highly respected rival of triathlon greats Michellie Jones, Emma Carney, Loretta Harrop, Karen Smyers and Carol Montgomery. After missing out on the 2000 Australian Olympic team, she retired from triathlon and devoted herself to the marathon where she could focus on her great running talent. In 2002, Karen Smyers helped Gallagher get an entry to the Boston marathon where she ran 2:35:41 and finished 11th woman overall. Gallagher went on to place 3rd at the 2002 Commonwealth Games marathon and set her personal best of 2:32:40 at Nagoya, Japan in 2004. In 2009, she moved up to the ultradistance and set a mark of 7:41:23 for the 100 kilometers.

Jackie met Australian Olympic gold medal archer Simon Fairweather at the Australian Institute of Sport and they married in 2004. She took his last name and the two remained in love until the end. On April 2, she posted a wedding photo on Facebook and wrote: “10 years ago today I married Mr. Beautiful Eyes. How did I get so lucky?” Up to the end, Fairweather was cheering and encouraging all Australian triathletes. On October 11, she posted a note on social media: “@Mirindacarfrae you little beauty! Love seeing you run and win #rhythmrunning #IMKona Champ again – Congrats! #AISTriathlon”

While her competitive record is outstanding, Fairweather also made a lasting mark as a coach and high performance manager of triathletes, runner and swimmers. In 2000, she applied for the job as the first Head Coach of the Australia Institute of Sport Triathlon Program and got it. Rather than serving as a traditional head coach, she worked more as a high performance director and manager – putting to work her master’s degree in exercise physiology as well as her experience as a world-class athlete with some of the best coaches in the business. She had an immediate impact - one of her first recruits was Emma Snowsill, who went on to win three ITU World Championships and Olympic gold in 2008. As just the second athlete to become a member of the ITU executive board, she also helped establish the Junior and Under 23 World Championship format, with clear age division and a sprint distance for juniors.

In addition to being the best quote in the sport as an athlete, Fairweather also contributed her highly articulate and fearless truth-telling as a commentator in the early days of ITU webcasts.

But if all you knew of Jackie Fairweather were her many achievements, honors earned and offices held with distinction, there would be a huge hole in your understanding why she was so beloved and will be mourned and sorely missed by many generations involved in her sports.

Tributes poured into Facebook, Twitter and other social media that will serve as the beginning of an understanding of her huge heart and boundless generosity.

“Jackie Fairweather was a very dear friend and my sounding board over the years every time I grappled with decisions around high performance sport. She always had time to share her expertise on so many aspects of our sport. She was a great athlete and an even greater human being. Thank you for all the special moments Jackie. I will never forget you. – Libby Burrell current Triathlon Canada high performance director, former ITU development director and former USA Triathlon high performance director.

“I opened my computer this morning to horrible news of the great Jackie Fairweather (Gallagher) having passed away just shy of her 47th birthday. I am gutted. The memories of racing on the ITU circuit for close to 10 years are coming flooding back. Tough as nails and a wonderful person who gave so much to others… she is gone way too soon.” – Sharon Donnelly Canadian triathlete who won the gold medal at the 1999 Pan American Games, currently U.S. assistant National Triathlon team coach.

“Jackie Fairweather, you inspired me, you challenged me, you knew how to fire me up. You were an amazing competitor, such a great leader in our sport and a friend. You will be remembered always and missed greatly. I pray that you knew how loved and respected you were, and always will be.” – Siri Lindley

“You shared and cared in your knowledge and passion for our sport more than anyone Jackie Fairweather. Not only a hero for your athletic abilities but [for] your generosity to help many up and coming athletes to pave a way for themselves and [work for] the future of this sport – [you are] second to none. May you Rest in Peace.” – Emma Snowsill

“Jackie Fairweather - so gutted and sad to hear of your struggle and turmoil. It was not apparent to those of us who watched and admired you and your exploits from afar. Winning world triathlon and duathlon titles, and then taking on marathon and ultra marathon running as your life’s expression. The triathlon world is worse off for your absence and perpetual contributions at all levels – I sincerely hope you are now in a state of serenity and peace.” – Mick Maroney Triathlon Australia Executive Board member.

“Jackie was a wonderful champion, fierce competitor, advocate for all levels of our sport but above all an incredible woman with a passion for life and a great glass of wine. My heart goes out to Simon and the rest of her family and friends. She will be missed all over the world.” – Leslie Buchanan ITU Anti-doping Director.

“Run softly on those clouds Jackie.” – A school mate of Jackie’s