Pro triathlete Mariella Sawyer takes on the toughest races for a living. We take a sneak peek into what that entails.
“You’re completely crazy. I wonder if I can do it.” That’s the thought pattern – fuelled by a natural competitive streak common in so many athletes – that inspired Mariella Sawyer, sports scientist and dietitian to try her hand at triathlons. What came next is the stuff of documentaries: putting herself through the extreme highs and lows of elite athleticism for a shot at the podium.
Work with what you’ve got
To be clear, Mariella Sawyer is not a stranger to sport. As a child, she dabbled in horse riding, surfing, half marathons and life-saving (yip – it’s a competitive sport, too!). But going pro had its own set of challenges, like funding to get overseas to race against the best. For a lucky few, competing is the only thing on the agenda, aside from training. For many others, full-time jobs, approaching prospective sponsors and training come with the territory. “We want to make a name for ourselves internationally,” says Mariella. “But it’s so hard to find the financial means to get to those races, and to just simply get to the start time.” Even so, Mariella self-funded her international races and in her maiden year, qualified for the IRONMAN World Champs in Nice, a big moment in her career.
Remember the bigger picture
When you’re swimming with the big fish, a small-fish mindset won’t cut it. For Mariella, her background in sports science and dietetics puts her in a good space to plan for races – and she thrives on a plan. “I’m very committed to working hard,” she says. “I’m willing to, you know, make the sacrifices. They come in all shapes and forms. I don’t actually like to call them sacrifices. Because it’s a choice I like to make because I have the bigger picture or goal in mind.”
Take the IRONMAN in Port Elizabeth last year. Mariella competed in the full race, spanning a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and a 42km run. While she’d competed in full IRONMANs before, this one really got to her. “Keep in mind, this is a full race. So you have to run a marathon at the end. And I got on the run and I just had no legs and it was probably somewhat traumatizing,” says Mariella. “I was pretty much crying myself through that run. And my parents were there and I was like, ‘Oh, no, everyone’s looking at me and they must think I’m so bad’. You know, all these demons come and talk in your ear.” True to form, however, she finished the run, legs and all – finishing at an incredible 10th place in the pro female category. Big picture stuff.
Small and steady wins the race
In competitive sports, the highs come far fewer than the lows. “I doubt myself and have a bad season and I’m like, ‘Should I still be doing this?’” Mariella’s answer back is the same wisdom humans have passed down since the dawn of time. “It’s just about persevering and carrying on,” she says. “It’s important to remember that the hard times and all those dark moments are a part of the process. They’re not the fun part, but they also make you appreciate the good times. And whether that’s a podium or running a PB or whatever it might be in life… it’s up to you whether we’re willing to endure those hard times to get there.” And there’s your motivation to check off a workout today.