I am SO ecstatic to share with you all today.
This past year I have had the opportunity to train with some pretty amazing athletes and coaches. While admittedly intimidated at first by this girl, Flora Duffy is easily one of the coolest tri-geeks ever. Not only is she cool but the caliber of athlete that this girl is hard to fathom.
No big deal but she is a 25-year-old 2 time olympian. A professional cyclist for fun. Runs a 34 minute 10k (5:28 pace)….. at the end of a triathlon. And in her own words ” if I am not one of the first people out of the water something has gone wrong” (including the men sometimes!). She also always looks like a rock star and I am hoping she sends me one of these cool outfits.
If it isn’t obvious already I think the world of Flora. While she is a great athlete I have been truly impressed by her perseverance. Through an eating disorder, an Olympic DNF, an early triathlon retirement, becoming a sorority girl, an Olympic bike crash, anemia and injuries Flora just keeps on keeping on. Fresh off a win at the USA Triathlon Off-Road National Championship lets see what makes this girl tick. How despite things that would make most throw in the towel she is coming out on top.
A little background on how you got into triathlon?
I did my first triathlon when I was 8 years old in Bermuda. I was a member of a local swim club, loved running, and owned a bike so my mom entered me in a kids triathlon. I loved it, and after the race joined the local kids triathlon club. A few of my friends also did the same. From then on I was hooked on the sport.
Is triathlon pretty popular in Bermuda?
The triathlon community in Bermuda is small, but it is a tight-knit, well supported community. There are a lot of strong athletes and motivated people to keep the sport growing. I am lucky to have such a supportive community back home in Bermuda.
When did you truly commit and start to pursue triathlon as more than just a hobby?
I’d say I truly committed when I was 16 years old. I made the move to boarding school in England to pursue triathlon. The school I went to (Kelly College) had a great swim program and a small up and coming triathlon program. I applied, got in and the next thing I knew I was living in England.
How old were you when you competed in your first “big” triathlon?
I can remember my first big triathlon like it was yesterday. In 2006 I competed in the Commonwealth Games triathlon in Melbourne, Australia. For those of you who don’t know what the Commonwealth Games are- think Olympics minus a few countries. Triathlon is extremely competitive at the Commonwealth level. Luckily I had a great race and finished 8th, which at 18 years old was no easy feat. The winner of the race then went on to win the Olympics two years later. That race made my dream of becoming a professional triathlete a reality.
Beijing how did you qualify, what was the process for getting there?
In order to qualify for the Olympics, I had to race on the world cup circuit and gain olympic points. Basically 18months out from the games qualification begins so I travelled around the world racing accumulating points. Three months before the Games qualification ends and top 55 in the world get to go.
How was this experience? Can you explain?
It was a very difficult experience for me. In the two years leading up to the Olympics I had been struggling with an eating disorder. I essentially got far too skinny and my body could not handle it. I started breaking down, and by the time I was on the start line for the race, I was in no condition to be there. I ended up pulling out of the race, which to this day was one of the worst things to happen to me. Obviously there are many worse things that could happen, but in my little world at 20 years old, DNF’ing at the Olympics was crushing.
What happened after Beijing?
After Beijing I retired for 2 years. That sounds a little crazy to do at 20 years old, but my body was in such a poor state- both mental, physically and emotionally that I needed time away from the sport. I suppose in a way, hitting rock bottom so hard knocked some sense into me. I moved home to Bermuda, started working and was a normal 20-year-old.
What brought you to Boulder?
I quickly decided that the working world was not for me at 20 years old, so I applied to the University of Colorado. It was sort of a spur of the moment thing. I didn’t apply anywhere else, and decided that if I got into CU I was going. I applied in September 2008, and by January 2009 I was enrolled at CU living in Boulder, CO.
A quick recap of what you did between Beijing and London?
So Beijing was in 2008, by 2009 I was a college student and sorority girl (I really gave the typical college girl thing a shot) that partied a bit too much and barely made it to class. It was fun for a while but by the fall of 2010 I had come to my sense and realized I wanted to give the triathlon thing another go. I joined the CU Cycling team, got a proper coach (Neal Henderson) and slowly but surely started to find the love again for triathlon. By the summer of 2010 I was racing on the world cup circuit again. This time with a different perspective that I was racing for myself and for the love I have for triathlon, not anything else. Things started to fall into place, and I was racing really well and before I knew it I had qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London. (LOVE comes first???! Things fall into place after?! -Hayley)
Lead up to London- how did you feel, best shape of your life? Excited? Nervous?
I was in great shape leading into London. I was still based in Boulder working with the same coach (Neal) and had an amazing training group. I was excited for the games but calm because I knew everything was coming together at the right time. And honestly, I was just excited to be going back to the Olympics with a positive mind-set compared to how things were going in Beijing.
Can you give an overview of your race for the readers that don’t know what happened?
Unfortunately, the race was a disaster for me. I was caught up in a big crash on the first lap of the bike. I was in the lead pack with all the medal favorites feeling really good, and then the next thing I knew I was sliding across the road in front of Buckingham Palace. Not ideal. At this level any minor mistake can and will cost you pressure time, so a crash meant my dream of a top 10 finish we gone. However, I did get back up and finish, which is something I am quite proud of. It was tough though, to be at the back of the race getting the sympathy clap from thousands of people, but then again there are worse things that can happen to someone.
How did you feel after London? What was your training like following? Were you itching to race again or were you ready for a break?
I was devastated after London. The Olympics are unlike any other sporting event. There is so much media attention, hype, and prestige surrounding them that once they are done, you are kind of left with the ‘well, what now?’ thought. Fours years of your life are dedicated to this one race, and then it goes wrong can leave one feeling quite lost and uncertain. So I went back to school. By this point I had a year left at CU so threw myself at the books, which looking back on it now is kind of funny. August 4th 2012 I was racing in the Olympics, August 24th 2012 I was sitting in a university classroom listening to fellow students talk about how awesome is was to watch the Olympics of TV. Little did they know I had competed. I did manage to race a few more times that year while in school. In the span of 6 weeks I races in upstate NY, LA, Cancun, Auckland New Zealand, and Bermuda. I would not recommend all that travel while in University!
2013- How was this year for you?
I was dealing with some injury issues and health issues throughout the summer. I found out that I was anemic and had to have two iron IVs to bring my levels back up. During the time that I was anaemic I really struggled with training and to be honest with life! It is crazy what a lack of iron can do to someone. Shortly after recovering from that I was diagnosed with a stress reaction in my left foot. That diagnosis was heart breaking. But I excepted it, put my boot on and wore it for 6 weeks. Even though I could not run I still swam and rode my bike as much as my foot could tolerate. To be honest I am not really sure what kept me going but whatever it was I am glad it did because finishing 3rd at the Xterra World Championships in Maui was amazing. I has no idea that result was possible, but they say good things come when you least expect. I was cleared to start running two weeks before the race so to actually run a 10km was an achievement in itself never mind finish 3rd
Going into this year (2014) where was your focus? Big goals?
2014 will finally be the first year that I am a full blown full-time athlete. It is quite exciting and daunting at the same time. I have to make this triathlon career work. An important lesson that I have learned along the way is how important it is to listen to your body. If you’re tired then rest, if you’re sick then rest, rest is your friend. Triathlon is my career now so I need to perform, training like a mad woman and racing poorly is not going to cut it. Sometimes a few days off can be far more beneficial than three hard days of training. One of the perks of being full-time was spending the winter in South Africa. I was based in Stellenbosch which is a town about 45mins outside of Cape Town. It is a beautiful place, that I can’t wait to go back to.
Alright so now here we are, June 2014, you have raced 6 races this year and taken the win at 5 of them? How do you feel?
I am really excited how the season is starting off. I worked very hard over the winter in Stellenbosch so it is very fulfilling to see the hard work paying off.
You have experienced some things that would have made many throw in the towel, what has kept you going?
I think it is just the love for the sport. However my perspective and outlook has changed through those set backs. Initially when I first started racing I wanted to be the best and achieve as much success as possible, even if it meant being extremely unhealthy. Now I race because I love it, and I want to do it for myself. Obviously I still want to win, but I view it with a different outlook.
What now? Big goals for the next few years?
Lots of big goals! This year the main focus is the Xterra World Championships- it is not secret that I want to win. And also the Commonwealth Games in July. That event is special to me because that is where my triathlon career started back in 2006 as a naive 18 year old. Of course there is RIO 2016 too. Qualification has started so over the next two year my focus will shift back to the world cup circuit in order to qualify for the games.
Amazing right? I don’t think I need to say much else but I will because I like talking. Flora Duffy has taught me to race for myself. To train when my body feels good and to rest when I need rest. That even a professional athlete has bad races, bad years even and that things don’t always come together when you expect them to. She has taught me that if I really love something it is worth it to put in the time and to keep on keeping on while looking as fly as possible. Simply- to persevere.
What is that one thing that you love so much you will never give up on?