Women & Sports: Suzzanne Laidlaw, Triathlon
Suzzanne Laidlaw is a recognised and successful business coach in Australia and her coaching journey can be attributed in part as a result of her sporting history and success. Suzzanne knows what it takes to perform at the top level, how to overcome obstacles and remain tirelessly dedicated to a goal set.
We took 5 with her for this months blog, found some personal truths in how we approach exercise, how to push past major setbacks and how to turn sporting accomplishments into holidays!
What kind of advantages do you see in your sport for women?
The advantages I see for women in triathlon is that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you all compete against others your same age. You also leave the starting line at varying intervals, so you are not as aware as in other sports where you are placed. This is perfect for a non-competitive option and for simply the joy of participating, and particularly for women who sometimes feel embarrassed exercising with others or negatively compare themselves to their counterparts. There is no limit on age or ability level, it’s a welcome sport for any and all. The triathlon family I have found to be a very supportive community. Additionally, because there are 3 disciplines, women get a varied exercise regime in swimming, running and cycling so it is fun to have the variety.
How far have you travelled to participate in sports?
I have travelled globally – to Canada, New Zealand, UK, and around Australia to compete. I also always tried, where I could, to combine a holiday with running/triathlon events so it was a great reason to travel and enjoy seeing the world.
How do you start training for competition?
It’s about making the decision about what you want to achieve and when. If there is a particular event in mind, in a destination that appeals to you, that you have set your sights on, that’s a great place to start.
For example, when I was watching the London Olympics in 2012, they mentioned that the next Triathlon World Championships was going to be on that same course in London some 2 years later. I thought how amazing it would be to compete in London in front of the Buckingham Palace, so my decision was made then & there – my goal was to participate in the World Triathlon Championships in London. Once the seed was planted, I found out when the qualifying race was being held and worked out a strategy plan to train up to that time.
You must have a goal, regardless of how small it is, to start working towards. Start with the end in mind, and work backwards from there. It will make training all that easier to attend and push through, knowing you’re working towards a certain goal.
How do you handle setbacks including injuries?
When I made the decision that I wanted to compete at the London World Championships, I had recently found out that I had a heart condition and I couldn’t push my heart to full capacity. I knew it would be a struggle to train and then compete at World Championship level when I couldn’t give 100%, but I was adamant that I wanted to do it anyway so nothing was going to get in my way. I knew they took the top 15 in each age group in the country for Triathlon, and I wasn’t out to win, so for me it was about having that opportunity to wear ‘green & gold’ in London and that vision was enough to push me through my setbacks.
There are always setbacks with everything we do in life – if there are obstacles to overcome, simply look at modifying your plan and training schedule to give yourself the best chances of still achieving the desired result.
I have had various injuries over the years, double knee reconstruction, overcame a life-threatening disease, had multiple muscle injuries leading up to events, but I just worked around it and did the best I could to turn up at my event and compete. I once came down with the flu before a big Ironman event, but I turned up and gave it my best and just knew that if I wasn’t able to finish then so be it, I did my best.
I just never thought of giving up. I think that’s so important when participating in sports, to keep a positive mindset as once your attitude goes down, your performance goes down as your body follows your mind. Your mind is your master.
One of my biggest sporting endeavours I achieved was swimming to Rottnest solo. The conditions were horrendous, with 3m swells, it was taking me far longer than expected (I expected it would take around 6.5 hours but due to the conditions it took 10 hours!) and people asked me “Why didn’t you give up, how did you have the strength to keep going?”. The truth is, giving up never crossed my mind as I had the goal and the vision and had pictured myself crossing the finish line and walking up the sand at Rottnest so many times, that I just kept working towards that goal. The mind doesn’t know the difference between your subconscious and your conscious so my thoughts were powerful enough to keep me going. No obstacle (including the fact that there was a shark sighting, my daughter was vomiting on the boat and my crew lost me for half an hour!) was going to stop me.
Have you ever thought of giving up? What kind of self talk did you use to get through it?
I focus on the moment – to me, exercise is like mediation. It’s about enjoying the opportunity to move my body and create natural endorphins, and I am grateful to have the ability to be able to exercise. I focus on every breath, every movement, what muscles are activating, what each part of my body is doing, feeling what I am feeling. I focus on being present at every single moment and not getting ahead of myself. Staying in the moment is a powerful tool for pushing through.
Any words of inspiration?
I think exercise and getting involved in moving your body should be part of everybody’s life every single day. It keeps us alive, it keeps us active and flexible and wakes us up. Our bodies weren’t made to do nothing all day, sit at desks, and be redundant.
It’s so important to keep our mental engine stable as well as the links between physical and mental strength are significant. Recent studies show how beneficial it is to our brain to create neuron-pathways through exercise.
It helps our brain, our body, gives us endorphins, a sense of belonging, a sense of community, you work with other people and people help you, it keeps you healthier, betters your heart, the benefits are endless.
I didn’t start participating in Triathlon until I was in my 30’s, after I had recovered from a life-threatening disease. I wanted to do something fun, be part of something, and rejoice in the fact that I was able to move my body through exercise and shouldn’t waste that opportunity.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, exercise will always be beneficial in your life. If it is not currently part of your routine, start slow (and consult with your medical professional if you have any injuries or illness) and build your way up to a level that is suitable to you. Your body and mind will thank you!
Thanks for Chatting with us Suzzanne, your experience and great knowledge has given our new years resolutions the boost we needed to stay inspired!