GUEST AUTHOR: A reflection by Tasmanian surf lifesaving champion Allie Britton
I grew up in Dodges Ferry, in my opinion the most magical little town on earth. Surrounded by ocean, quiet beaches, home to my family and still my favourite place in the world. We were fortunate to grow up experiencing everything that Tasmania offered.
Naturally, over the summer months we spent our days at Carlton Beach where Mum and Dad signed me and my siblings up for Nippers with the Carlton Park Surf Lifesaving Club. As time went on my love for surf lifesaving grew. Training and racing became my passion and with a burning desire to succeed, I wanted nothing more than to get my very own pink cossie with ‘Britton’ labelled right across the bottom.
Throughout my schooling years I was competitive in a wide range of sports. I loved soccer and athletics, but most of all I loved surf lifesaving. People often ask how on earth I ended up in a sport so involved in the ocean coming from such a place that is so cold over the winter months. It is always very simple to explain: I didn’t know any different. All I knew was to rug up in the winter, train hard in the summer and whether there was rain, hail or shine, training would go ahead and I would love every minute of it.
Driving out of college one afternoon and I recall declining an invite to head into the city for the evening. I replied with a ‘sorry I can’t, I have ski training’, the reply I received was nothing but confusion, ‘but there is no snow on the mountain?’ I laugh at this now and often tell this story. Surf lifesaving is not a huge sport in Tasmania, but Ironwoman racing stole my heart.
I never really knew what I wanted to do when I finished school, who I wanted to be when I grew up or what career path I would take. For me, unless I was spending my days training and working towards being an ironwoman, nothing really mattered.
Surf lifesaving is predominately an upper body sport. We swim and paddle endless kilometres each year, day in and day out. We are strong athletes, who push our bodies to the limits. Finding a healthy balance with training, work and a social life is difficult, but I found growing up to be much harder. As my body began to change, I struggled with my body image and became quite unwell.
For a period during my late teens I let my struggle with body image win, giving up on my passion and my dreams. It resulted in an unhealthy lifestyle full of anxiety, hurt and anger. This sport, with its training and people, saved me.
I packed up my car in 2014, set out to chase some sunshine, and headed for Queensland. Four years on and l am living on the Gold Coast where every day I am fortunate enough to live the reality of my dreams.
Training ruthlessly with an enormous amount of ambition and determination, I did everything in my power to reach my goal to be an Ironwoman. With hard work, sweat and plenty of tears, I became the first Tasmanian female to make the Nutri-Grain Ironwoman Series.
I have since won two short course Coolangatta Golds and finished runner-up in the 2016 and 2017 long course Coolangatta Gold. I am a huge believer that everything happens for a reason. My struggle with body image and the power to overcome mental illness has been the anchor of my successes.
Every session we undergo within our training week is painful. Every day when my alarm goes off for swimming – at 5am on a Saturday morning when training for the Coolangatta Gold and there is a 3-4 hour session ahead of me, or when I am half way through our thirteenth session for the week and every part of my body wants to give up – I am grateful.
I am grateful for the body I have, and I am thankful for the demons of my past. I like to tell myself when I am hurting that no session, no swim set and no distance to be covered is harder than overcoming a mental illness. I draw the motivation from this to keep going.
To this day I continue to struggle with anxiety. I implement coping strategies in my day to day life and have learnt to channel my emotions and stresses into my training, finding a release and a sense of calm when I accomplish a session to the best of my ability.
I am continuing to better my ways each day, and though perhaps not an ideal way to deal with anxiety, the release of endorphins and diving into the ocean is currently the best choice of medicine for me.
Looking forward and I am proud to say that overcoming life’s challenges little by little has led me to find a passion for words. I’m currently studying journalism, writing for a surf sports magazine and building a small business assisting others who are inspired to chase their own dreams by helping them with all things words and resumes. I truly couldn’t be happier living the life I do.
For now, I will continue to race and train for Kurrawa Surf Lifesaving Club, work hard each day towards my personal goals and hope to inspire the kids of Tasmania that with hard work, persistence and a burning desire to succeed, anything is possible.