The announcements have been made. The opening ceremony is underway. And as I contemplate a couple more months of wintery evenings my excitement levels only grow higher. Rio 2016 Olympics. It is upon us. And representing Aotearoa New Zealand in triathlon is none other than our pick for this month’s dose of inspiration, Tony Dodds.
Tony has dreamt about wearing the silver fern on the world stage since he was 13 years old. Since becoming a competitive triathlete in 2005, Tony’s passion for sport has led him on a journey to the point where his childhood dream has now become his reality. We chat to Tony to get more of an insight before he heads to Rio in August.
Getting to the top
Tony’s 2016 Olympic selection is all the more impressive considering he has just come back from a pretty serious hip injury. Tony’s drive to come out on top of this potentially career-ending injury took him through a “long, long grueling process”, but ultimately his rehab plan delivered the result he was shooting for. This is pretty telling of the key to Tony’s success as a professional triathlete. Whether it is a rehab plan or a high performance regime, Tony is goal-driven. To keep pushing himself to the limit, Tony breaks his ambitions down into long, medium and short term goals. It should come as no surprise that having training partners to keep up that competitive edge is also a huge motivator. “There are guys there who will give it their all to be in your position.” As Tony has proved, this was just the push he needed to get to the top.
The importance of zen
Tony has a hectic schedule; his day is practically mapped out to the minute. But it is not all go all the time; rest time is just as important as race time for athletes. Tony takes out 20 minutes twice a day to practice transcendental meditation. I’m not a meditation expert so I had to look this up; essentially it is a technique for avoiding distracting thoughts and promoting a state of relaxed awareness. “I started it because I was overthinking a lot (especially before races) and it helped me let everything go.” For Tony, his practice has the same effect as a 90 minute deep sleep. Sounds like something I should take up!
Taking it all in
The life of a professional athlete is pretty hectic: training, travelling, racing, travelling again, racing again (all the more reason to make time for meditation). It’s easy to understand that this schedule leaves little time to actually see much beyond the race course. But Tony made a conscious decision a few years ago to change his mindset and actually embrace the full experience. “[Otherwise] I’d feel I wasted a good ten years of my life worrying about how my race was going to go instead of going out and enjoying the company, the place you are in and why you do it.”
Paying tribute to a role model
Tony wastes no time on paying attention to negativity. He is a strong believer that the only people that matter are the people around him. It’s fitting then, that his role model is Laurent Videl, (a former professional French triathlete and partner to Andrea Hewitt who sadly passed away late last year). “His philosophy on life and in sport was amazing.” Part of Laurent’s philosophy was that being the best athlete had as much to do with the support team as with the training itself. Tony has also been inspired by Laurent to give himself time out from his strict regime (and not just when overseas). “Yes, work bloody hard, but if you have success then celebrate it.”
Taking the lead
Since starting out as a triathlete, Tony’s vision has been threefold; to change the way people look at triathlon, mix up the way the sport is being raced and to be a role model. “I try to lead by example, not only in sports but outside of sports.” Although being selected for the Olympics is a huge milestone in Tony’s journey towards fulfilling this vision, he still sees it as merely a step towards a bigger goal.
Those five Olympic rings
In fact, Tony is the only one of New Zealand’s four-person triathlon team not to have experienced the Olympics before. His strategy? “Not to get too overwhelmed and do my thing.” Tony achieved multiple top 10 placings in both World Cup and World Triathlon Series Events in the lead-up to Olympic selection. If this is how Tony does his thing, it is going to be an exciting watch in August. As Tony points out, “on the day anything can happen!”
Written by CHIA blogger, Anna Watson