My Experience at the World Championships – The challenges, the success and the lessons learnt.

Written By: Super Clinic Physio Ambassador & Iron Woman Champion, Harriet Brown. 

Most of my surf ironwoman competitions are along the east coast of Australia over summer. There are limited opportunities to travel and compete around the world. When I was selected to be a part of the 2022 Australian Life Saving team to travel to Italy in September, I jumped at the chance. This was a goal of mine throughout the season; to race well enough to earn my spot in this team. It’s a huge honour to race for your country and I feel so lucky to have had another opportunity to travel internationally to compete against athletes from 56 other countries. Some of my best memories in sport over the years are the trips away experiencing new places, cultures and meeting like-minded athletes from all around the world who are passionate about the same sport.
This team is difficult to make. As a young surf lifesaving athlete, it was never my goal to make the Open Australian Team because I just didn’t think I would ever be good enough (probably a combination of reality & self-doubt). The Australian Life Saving team is comprising 6 male and 6 female athletes who combined have to compete in 42 events across 6 days comprising of 24 individual events and 18 team events. 3 days are in the pool competing in pool lifesaving events and 3 days are at the beach competing in surf lifesaving events. I was selected as the pure surf athlete.
My main goal in Italy was not only to race my best but enjoy the whole experience with my team. In past competitions I have occasionally been so caught up in the outcome of racing that I forgot to enjoy all the little moments along the way – the ‘stop to smell the roses’ thing. I have found that when people are enjoying themselves it is infectious and the whole team gets a lift. I knew I had done the work; weeks of training hard at Northcliffe Surf Club doing 15 sessions per week including swimming, board paddling, ski paddling, running, gym and ironwoman sessions.
Competing overseas is always really unpredictable.  Italy was no different to this; a new time zone, different culture, different languages, different food (delicious food) and new places to train and compete. On top of this our team is put together comprising of champion individuals with unique personalities and experience coming together for one common goal. Whilst I really thrive and get excited in new situations, I’m an athlete who is usually process driven. Back home, I like to eat a similar breakfast on race day, have my coffee a certain way, do a specific warm up and have a similar taper leading into the event. Being in a different country away from my usual squad and training environment means that controlling many of these things are almost impossible. We all tried our best to be adaptable, go with the flow and not sweat the small stuff.
Unfortunately, days before I was set to compete, I came down with a cold. Everyone was being so careful (Covid was still rife) so I had to isolate in my room for 24h. There were certainly many more things I would have preferred to do in Italy in those few days including train and watch my teammates race in the pool. I was pretty disappointed and was also slightly concerned about racing. I kept reassuring myself that I had raced feeling much worse in the past. All I had to do was rest up, stay positive and hope for the best. I really believe that competition has so much to do with mental performance.
One of my biggest challenges as part of the team was not the change in diet, time zone or being sick, it was actually the feeling of pressure. When I race for myself in the Ironwoman series back in Australia, I aim to win, and if I don’t win it’s on me. In this team environment I felt like I needed to perform for my team. I personally felt an extra weight of pressure because I had only a few races that were my opportunity to contribute to the team. As much as it’s uncomfortable feeling those yukky nervous feelings, pressure can be a good thing. With the support of my team and team tactics, I was able use my nerves to lift and push myself through the pain that came with every race. I feel proud to say I won the individual events I was selected in; the Ironwoman and the Board race as well as some team events.
I was pretty inspired by seeing so many of my teammates race so well. I really believe that momentum builds success in a team environment. Australia won by 148 points over New Zealand and then France. It was really satisfying to achieve our common goal together. However, despite all the success and challenges, my greatest achievement was being able to enjoy the moment, not get too caught up in the pressure of racing and really embrace the experience. It’s a pretty cool feeling to stand on the line of a race and be surrounded by woman from all around the world, all coming together sharing a love for the same sport.