Michelle Cooper isn’t your house hold name – yet. From humble beginnings, Michelle has risen through the ranks to become one of Triathlons most revered women as an athlete, coach, club founder, motivational speaker and ambassador. Funny enough, this wasn’t always the case with triathlons being a relatively new addition to Michelle’s everyday life. With a sporting background in ballet and tennis and careers in retail, horticulture, marketing and communications, Michelle isn’t exactly one to lay about doing nothing!
As the September issue of AusTri Mag reveals, Michelle’s foray into triathlons came in early 2011 when her husband David, a mad triathlete himself, dragged her to one of his races as a spectator. As the day unfolded, Michelle could think only one thing “these people are nuts! All my instincts told me that I could never do this as I had no clue how to ride a bike and the thought of open water swimming terrified me!” At the time, Michelle was training for her first marathon – the New York City Marathon (being the high goal setter that she is!) and was beginning to taper off so David suggested she try out a sprint distance triathlon in October – the shorter format of the sport consisting of a 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run. “I watched that first race in March and raced in October. It was 6 months from seeing it to doing it. I just didn't want to know about it before that!”
“We bought a Felt road bike on the Thursday afternoon. The following morning in the car park I hopped on, and David held onto the back saying he wouldn’t let go. Well he did let go, and as I was clipped in for the first time, of course I went crashing down. There was blood, tears and worst off all; I busted my knee giving me a fat pad impingement. I was angry and upset, but David still made me race in the triathlon just two days later. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve had. I thought I was going to drown, I held onto every lifesavers raft for what seemed like an eternity. I did breaststroke most of the way. I was dead last out of the water and just wanted to quit. But off I went on the bike, very slowly. The moped rider was picking up the cones behind me I was that slow. I kept thinking, “the run is coming, at least I can do that.” Of course, it was awful. I could barely walk. My knee was sore. I had never run off a bike before. I yelled at David the whole time, for making me do something so ridiculous. It wasn’t my finest moment. But when I crossed the line, stone dead last people still cheered me on and thought it was terrific. I was fascinated by that experience and couldn’t understand how people could be so gracious to someone who clearly had no clue. I decided that I had no right to hate a sport I had not even adequately prepared for and that the least I could do was practice, race again and then decide if it was for me. Well, here I am, so I guess it is”
Fast forward to today where the Sport of Triathlon is now a huge part of Michelle’s life. “A typical day starts at 4:30am with squad training at SBR which is a Brisbane triathlon club we founded in 2011 that caters for beginner to intermediate triathletes and also includes a performance centre & bike servicing workshop. I manage to also get a light workout in whether it’s a run or cycle with the crew which is great for my aerobic fitness. Then it’s off to work where I manage a team of 11+ staff which I thoroughly enjoy and have found that being a coach and mentor has also positively influenced my ability of being a leader in the work place. After work it’s back to SBR for more coaching and training before heading home for family time – I also try to sneak in some more work like writing and updating training plans!” Michelle has also been the Director of Triathlon Australia (TA) since 2014 having spent several years on Triathlon Queensland’s board. Her role with TA see’s her focusing on membership and participation but also, and just importantly, growing the sport at a grassroots level and improving female participation.
Having such a fast paced and busy schedule usually results in burnout and fatigue for a lot of people but Michelle has her secret. “It’s all about recovery for me. I’m not getting any younger, and some of these races are longer distances, so I must ensure that after every session, long or hard, I spend time going through my routine. It is very regimented, but it starts right after I finish. It takes a lot to recover well, and I am fortunate to work with some excellent companies who help me with that. Having entered triathlon late and having had a considerable ramp-up in volumes, intensity and racing that caused me heaps of trouble with injuries and fatigue until I learned to manage it better.” When asked how Michelle defines athletic success she had this to say – “For me, it is about ensuing that the goals are truly yours and no one else’s and that you do what is within your means to achieve them.” Triathlon isn’t a sport for the non-committed as Michelle will attest. “I live by this simple statement; ‘yes – these are the days.’ On hard days I say this to remind myself that these are the days that make me tougher, make the difference on race day or make me more compassionate. And when things are going well it reminds me that these are the days that shape me into the who I am now and who I want to keep striving to become. When I coach, the best piece of advice I give to athletes is to not get too far ahead of yourself – stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand”.
“It’s fantastic to inspire people to get involved in sport but the reality is I want them to set their own path. Don’t Follow my path – make your own!”
Looking ahead, Michelle’s schedule isn’t getting any easier with a host of events (six between now and July 2019) that she will be competing in all over the world. She has also set her sights on further improving engagement with athletes and clubs in the Oceania region with attention being focused towards a sister program with the Samoan Triathlon Federation that will include coaching clinics, equipment and technical support. “Professionally, I want to spend more time speaking and nurturing other women in business by concentrating on female leadership, personal development and chasing goals – something we can never have too much of!”