The Siddall Project – Chasing the Dream – Part 1 written for www.witsup.com
“On the day that she leaves what has been her home in Sydney for almost seven years, Laura Siddall shares her thoughts and dreams with us – those thoughts and dreams that will see her fly to San Francisco, and setting the wheels in motion of chasing her dream of becoming a successful professional triathlete.” www.witsup.com
So why leave the awesome life I have in Sydney? Why leave amazing friends? Why leave a country that’s been home for the past six years, has welcomed me, been incredibly favourable to me and supportive (well I am British). Why? To see how good I can be at triathlon. To follow my heart and dreams and the goals I have, and take the leap to give the sport I feel so energised about, a really serious go. To make that dream a reality. To look back in 10, 20, however many years time with no regrets and no ‘what if’s’. To not die wondering…
I moved to Australia at the start of 2008 with a background in netball, athletics, and most sports – when you show a little ability at a sport at school in the UK you tend to get thrown into everything . I did get our swim relay team DQ’d (twice) for an illegal butterfly stroke! Go figure. Not really finding my love for the 800m here in Sydney I joined a beginners triathlon course in 2009, run by a group Bondifit, led by the infamous Spot Anderson. Well that was it really, I was hooked and as a rookie I’d signed up for an Ironman. Again why? Well simply because their training looked much more fun. So in December 2009 I completed Ironman Western Australia in no sparkling time, but just pleased to cross the line and tick the box. Whilst it was an awesome day, I was happy to revert to short distance races and work on speed, which was my focus for the next few years.
Getting a couple of lucky breaks I was able to compete for GBR at the World Championships, starting in the sprint distance. Budapest was my first real notable result, where I finished second (by seven seconds). Whilst I’d believed I could podium (I’d finished maybe top 10, on the Gold Coast the previous year with no real idea about the sport), I’m not really sure I’d expected that silver medal, particularly as the day before (my 30th birthday) my Quintana Roo TT bike had been stolen, and so a fellow team mate very kindly lent me her road bike for the race. Whilst pretty chuffed with the silver medal – that seven seconds hurt.
Siddall and her parents
For the next year I then had a goal. I wanted to win. I wanted the gold medal and the title of a World Champion. One year on and the World Champs was in Beijing, 2011 – the race this year on my birthday itself. My parents and one of my sisters had flown out to support, and on a cold and rainy day, I had what felt like an almost perfect race, claiming my first World Title! Wow! You always remember your first, right? 😉 I can pretty much still remember everything about that race and the events leading up and after. Amazing. But I wasn’t finished… The sprint event was very much the secondary race to the standard Olympic distance race, and with talk of the Worlds being in London in two years time, I now wanted to win at the Olympic distance. Roll on Auckland in 2012. Another cold and rainy day (not that unusual for Auckland) and I lined up for the Olympic distance. After what I felt was an absolutely horrific swim, I put some damage down on the ripper bike course, enabling me to hold the lead on the run, and showing how much the conditions, emotions and effort had taken out of me, I collapsed across the line – all captured on TV. To be fair I have been known to collapse in races before (City2Surf 2008, 300m from the finish, legs went, hit the deck, woke up in medical). Once again my biggest fans, my parents had flown around the world to watch, making this title also very special. That was my ticket as well to London Worlds in 2013. However, I was getting to a stage when I needed to think about stepping up again to the half iron-distance and as a few friends were already signed up for Honu 70.3, I put my name down too. Honu was fab! There was a great little crew of us all out there, which made the race just so much fun. It was a pretty brutal race but I loved it, and crossed the line as first age grouper, securing a ticket to Vegas 70.3 World Championships in the process! Now that changed plans. Vegas was the week before London. Then my sister kindly put her wedding the week after London and September 2013 was turning into be a thing of dreams. This dream then became reality, winning in Vegas, then London and then a fabulous day as a bridesmaid to my gorgeous sister! What a month.
For most of 2013 people were saying and asking ‘when am I going Pro?’, and whilst this was at the back of my mind as the plan for the end of the year and a longer term goal, I was a bit reluctant to take the step at first. At that time I had little to no experience over the longer half iron-distance and I was well aware that the step up was a pretty decent one. For a long time I resisted the comments, not feeling it was the right time, but off the back of winning in Vegas and London, it suddenly felt a bit less daunting and the timing seemed to be coming together, so I signed up and got my Pro license ready for the 2014 season.
Another reason I hadn’t got my license earlier was because I was working full time, and if I wanted to really compete with the Professionals, I wanted to do it properly, not whilst trying to squeeze training and recovery around a full time job. In November 2013, I reduced down to three days a week (Tues-Thursday). I have to say that my work (Leighton Contractors) have been incredibly supportive throughout the couple of years I worked for them, allowing me the time to do my sport and make work and the sport fit together. Thank you.
So where does San Francisco come into all of this?
Having made the decision to turn Professional, I saw 2014 turning into a pretty big year, making the step up and I guess subconsciously aware that I had to justify the fact that I deserved to be racing with the Pros and that I certainly didn’t take it for granted the results I’d got as an Age Grouper. I knew things had to change in the way I approached training and racing. There was still so much to learn and so much to know about and I felt I needed and wanted to be in an environment that supported this next level.
Siddall and her old coach Spot Anderson – one of a kind
However I’d been with my coach and with my awesome training squad, Bondifit, for five years. Spot had taken me from a rookie on a hybrid mountain bike, and in the slow lane of the pool (I did say I got the swim team DQ’d), to a 4 x World Champion. He knew me, probably to my annoyance, better than anyone else, and what we had done over the past five years had certainly worked. I am forever grateful to Spot and the Bondifit squad. They are an awesome group to be part of. So many inspiring people with different stories and different goals, no matter how big or how small, and their support for each other and everyone is just incredible. As for Spot, he’s a unique, one of a kind guys and I would not be sitting here today, writing this and having made the decision if it wasn’t for him, the work he has done, and the help he has given me over the past five years. Thank you, Spot. As much as we both wanted to make things work moving forward, it was a mutual agreement that unfortunately for various reasons, it wasn’t going to work at the next level and we needed to make that awkward and horrible separation and relationship break up… The “it’s not you it’s me” kind of one! However as Spot is an absolute legend, he was keen to assist me in working out what that next step looked like and where it may take me.
We both felt that the move needed to be away from Sydney. This was a pretty heart wrenching realisation, having lived here for just over six years and well why wouldn’t you love living by Bondi Beach, with the outdoor lifestyle (remember I’m British by background)! But it needed to be a move away from Bondi and Sydney to really start a fresh. The exciting bit was we then put together a list of all the top triathlon coaches in the World. Yep this was a pretty ballsy move and I did stare at the list thinking ‘why would any of these amazing coaches ever consider me’, and ‘this is ridiculous’. Spot sent an email to Darren Smith. I’d met Darren on a camp in Canberra the previous year and had pretty much been blown away. It was one of the first seeds in my head where I thought… I want this life, this athlete life. I want to do this. Darren promptly responded, as he always does and takes the time to, with a brilliant lengthy email with a whole list of coaches who he respected and recommended around the world. Wow! This was amazing. On that list was Matt Dixon, from Purplepatch and I was immediately drawn to Matt. I’d been aware of Matt and his Purplepatch group, and the incredible athletes he’s coached, for a while and I had thought that it would be pretty special to be in that squad. I knew that if I want to be the best I can be, I need to be in the best squad and with the best coach. I’d also had some brief contact via email with Emma-Kate Lidbury as we’d both previously been sponsored by Wiggle (albeit me on the back of being lucky to win a competition for a years contract, and Emma-Kate actually because she’s a flippin’ awesome athlete and was winning races all over). So whilst I investigated a few options of coaches and locations, which I think was key with such a big decision and change about to occur working for the coach, I think deep down I had my heart set on joining Matt and his team and so we contacted him.
Run training in Sydney © Delly Carr
Living in Australia is amazing, but for me it’s becoming further and further away from my family in England. The number of family and friends’ weddings and events and occasions I have missed whilst living in Australia, is far too many than I wish to think about, and whilst I wouldn’t have changed the past few years here, sometimes you just need to go home and get a hug from your mum. With all the changes, decisions to be made, a few other things going on, and the uncertainty about what I was doing and where, it was one of those times. I needed to see my family. I needed to be at home, in a house that was just familiar, to spend time with my parents, my sisters and my niece and nephew. I just needed to go home and so as mad to some people it may have seemed I made the trip. The bonus of this was that it meant I could tag on a visit to San Francisco to meet Matt, and at least show that I was serious about this. Whilst at home I also got to train with Mark Pearce and his squad at Loughborough University (one of the main sports uni in the UK, and one of the English Institute of Sports centers, as well as home of British Triathlon). Only being 40mins from my parents, I think my Mum was secretly hoping I’d stay. It was great to swim with British Triathlon Performance Squad, and it opened my eyes up to the whole world out there in triathlon. Different training techniques and sessions and I think confirmed my need to move.
San Francisco was an awesome week. I think I was just on a high and totally appreciative, at being able to train in a new exciting location and with a new, different, and a tad impressive group of athletes. I have to admit I was pretty star struck when I first met Meredith Kessler. Meredith had literally just won Ironman New Zealand and I didn’t even manage to splurt out a ‘congratulations’ it was more of a mumble of hello and that was about it. The whole squad was fantastic though and everyone made me feel incredibly welcome and went out of their way to make me feel at home. (Special thanks to Sarah Piampiano, Sarah Cameto and of course Meredith for this.) I was also very spoilt in San Fran as the weather for the week I was there was simple stunning. Blue sky, sunny, warm days just made everything about the place seemed even better. It was again great to have a mix up of sessions and training techniques. None of it drastically different but I felt even in that week I was learning so much and it was just broadening my mind again. Just about at the end of the week, Thursday 13th March, to be exact, Matt Dixon said some magic words… “You’re in”. I think he actually had to say them twice maybe three times, so I actually took it in and believed him. Wow!! Pretty sure I didn’t hear anything else he said for the rest of the run, after that! (Yes, he told me whilst out running on an amazing San Fran morning in the Presidio. I remember every detail of the sunrise, golden light, the trees and everything Matt said, up until the moment he said ‘you’re in’, then it’s all a kind of happy blur!)
San Fran dreaming
From then it’s been all systems go. It was a case of get back to Sydney, break the news to people, resign from my job, move out of my apartment, sell everything I own (ok pretty much everything), throw a lot away, (for the last two weeks at work, when I came home, my work corporate clothes went straight onto the throwing out pile (well actually donating to DressforSuccess so hopefully someone will get some good use out of them). Sort out visas, bank accounts, training, catching up with people, and then book a one way ticket… Yep, a one way ticket to San Francisco!
So I’m back to sitting here, about to leave Sydney and start a brand new adventure in the USA. My new job and career is now as a Professional Triathlete. Ha! I’m so so excited I want to dance around the house, or yell down the street and I have the biggest smile on my face and a million butterflies inside. I can’t wait to get out there and start learning. I’m also absolutely #shittingit. Resigning from work and moving into the unknown. The fears of not having that stable pay cheque once a month. The thoughts of ‘wtf’ am I doing? Am I absolutely crazy? Possibly. Possibly delusional at what lies ahead. Living in denial about what I’m about to do in a weeks time and going forward for the next…Well however long. I’m trying not to think about leaving my friends here and some of my favorite places around this amazing city. I’m certainly trying to block out all the emotion that goes with leaving a place and so many good memories and friends, to make it easier to deal with and manage. At the same time though, it’s a very odd feeling. It doesn’t really feel like I’m leaving. It’s surreal. I have made so many amazing friends around the world through the sport of triathlon, that I know I will see everyone again at races and events around the globe. That’s the nature of this sport.
I’m excited at what lies ahead. Let me say that again, I’m so excited about what lies ahead. It’s almost the unknown that is intriguing. The challenge to step up and really go after something I want. The chance to mix it with and compete against the best. The chance to love and experience the process. The excitement that there is still so much to learn and so much to improve. The opportunity to race in some amazing locations and meet some incredible people. The chance to work with one of the best coaches in the world…I’m still pinching myself about this. The chance to live the dream…
Why… Because I want to be the best I can be. I want to win. I want to inspire. I don’t want to live with the regret that I never tried. Life is for living and I love this sport and actually for the first time feel that this is what I’m meant to do in my life. I don’t want to die wondering.