Triathlete Sam Douglas still wears his Elite Athlete Program kit when training as a reminder of his days at the University of Sydney.
The Janelli High School product came to the campus in 2011 and was placed on a Sports Scholarship in the Elite Athlete Program. He graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree in 2017 after interrupting his studies for two years to compete professionally in triathlons in the US.
He’s now teaching at Waverley College and in training to act as a guide for Jonathan Goerlach at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics, which were postponed last year due to the COVID pandemic. The partnership came about in June 2020 when he spent a week at the Australian Institute of Sport undertaking a Performance Coaching course.
“We were learning about para-triathlon among other things when Jonathan serendipitously reached out and asked if I would be interested in racing with him in the PTVI-2 para-triathlon category,” Sam said.
“One of the best parts of coaching is getting to help others achieve their goals in the sport, so I was more than willing to join Jono on his journey towards his goal of reaching the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Triathlon is inherently an individualistic sport, and through this experience, I have learned first-hand the necessity of communication, teamwork, understanding, and the value of a good partnership when it comes to reaching your goals.”
Jonathan, who has Usher Syndrome, which causes gradual peripheral vision loss and hearing loss, was looking for a new guide and Sam stepped in.
“When competing we’re tied together for the swimming and running legs of the triathlon and I steer the tandem bicycle on the bike leg,” Sam said. “Jono competes at a high level so we have to be careful on the course.
The Paralympics course includes a 750m swim (in Tokyo that will be in the harbour), a 20km bike ride, and a 5km run. Johnno is a very good runner and can churn out the 4.5km in 16-17 minutes. Once we’re on the bike on a flat course, with two of us pedalling we can get up to 50km/h. Transitioning is a big part of the race – Johnno has to know where each change of gear is, he’s very process-driven.”
The pair are a formidable team, placing 5th at the recent ITU World Championships. They have also qualified for NSW Institute of Sport scholarships to support the pair in reaching their goal.
“Jono has already qualified for the Tokyo Games but because of COVID we haven’t been able to track his main competitors. He was ranked fifth in the world before COVID, so we’re concentrating on how we prepare for the Games. We’ve been to Tokyo to test for a test event but couldn’t swim in the harbour at that time because it was too polluted. This will be my first experience at the Games, I’m looking forward to it.” (The Olympic Games are in July and the Paralympics in August.)
Sam’s journey to the Games has been littered with triathlons and travel. He lives and breathes triathlons. “My dad Andrew was one of the early ironman competitors,” he said. “Triathlons took off in the early 1990s with the Nutragrain series before Tooheys sponsored a series around the country. The ironman now includes a 3-8km swim and a 180km bike ride followed by a marathon.”
As a two-year-old Sam was on his father’s shoulders when he crossed the finish line at the Kona Ironman and it’s been in his blood ever since. After qualifying as a professional triathlete at Noosa in 2011 in an Open Olympic distance triathlon, he has raced in ITU, Olympic, and half-ironman distance races in a professional capacity across the world, including his two-year stint in the US which interrupted his university studies.
Some of his best results have been 4th at the 2018 Challenge Melbourne in 3:45:00; 3rd in the 2018 Japan Ironman in 4:05:48; fastest bike split in the 2017 Nepean Triathlon; and 2nd in the 2013 Syracuse 70.3 in 04:09:28.
“I was fortunate to have support from Merida Bikes, HED Wheels, Swift Multisport, and more recently, Mizuno Running Australia. And while on campus he had support from the EAP. “The EAP was fantastic,” he said. “I spent plenty of time in the gym and used the funding to get to races. It is an amazing program. I still wear the kit we were given.”
Since graduating Sam has become a Triathlon Australia accredited Performance Coach and a qualified teacher, using his sporting knowledge and professional ability to train his athletes holistically. He has consulted for Triathlon NSW, providing insight and support on increasing junior participation in the sport, and sits on the junior development squad selection board. And he has run triathlon camps and clinics to provide skill development workshops through to intensive training blocks in the lead-up to races.
Sam was also employed by Triathlon NSW as the organisation’s Development Officer for the promotion and development of the sport with juniors and school students across the state. Since settling into Sydney’s eastern suburbs he has trained Sydney Triathlon Group out of Centennial Park while maintaining his own busy schedule of racing and training. And this year he took up a teaching position at Waverley College in Bondi. “I have to balance coaching, guiding, and teaching with competition – I still need my goals,” he said.
“I hadn’t thought of teaching as a profession when I was at school. But after getting to university and really enjoying my time there I decided I could help encourage school students of the possibilities. I’m now teaching Years 7 to 12 at Waverley College in Personal Development Health and Physical Education and really enjoying it. I’m excited to find new ways to help juniors firstly get started in the sport but more importantly stay in the sport.”
Sam preaches what he teaches and no doubt his students will be following his progress with Jono in Tokyo.