Chrissie Wellington is somewhat of an anomaly in elite sport. Born in Norfolk in 1977, she showed little athletic ability in her younger years, other than some reasonable talent on the local swimming circuit, but nobody would have predicted she’d go on to become a four-time world champion.
Despite possessing an insatiable drive for success, she didn’t even dream of becoming a full-time sportswoman herself - and she wouldn’t turn professional until she was 29.
In fact, Wellington had a promising career as a civil servant before making the switch to triathlon. She had shown an aptitude for endurance events in the preceding years, having finished the London marathon in 3:08:17 in 2002 and coming second in the famous Coast to Coast race in New Zealand - a two-day event involving running cycling and kayaking. Remarkably, she didn’t even know how to kayak when she entered the race and only had a few weeks of training in the build-up.
After stumbling on to triathlon by chance, Wellington soon developed an addiction to swim-bike-running and would regularly juggle over 20 hours a week of training with her full-time job. This culminated in her greatest achievement as an amateur - a shock win at the ITU Age Group World Championships in 2006. It was a result that would ultimately inspire her to give up her job and move halfway across the world to train.
In February 2007 she relocated to Thailand in order to work with Australian coach Brett Sutton, who had already produced a number of World and Olympic Champions.
Despite initially training for the Olympic distance with aims of qualifying for the Beijing Games in 2008, Wellington showed considerable talent over longer distances but was almost completely unknown when she entered the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October 2007. But that was about to change as she won in what was described as the “biggest upset in Ironman Hawaii history” by triathlon journalists.
Then 30, she would go on to win three of the next four titles, culminating in an incredible display of willpower at what turned out to be her last professional race in 2011. Wellington had suffered a devastating bike crash just two weeks prior and sported fresh scars up her legs as a result, but her gritty attitude was unperturbed.
She gave absolutely everything she had, being pushed right to the line to win in 8:55:08 with a victory margin of less than three minutes. The Brit looked delirious at the finish but proved herself as one of the most stubborn and resilient athletes the sport had ever seen.
Wellington’s is a story that can inspire every athlete. It shows the boundaries that can be broken with hard work, patience and belief.
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