They are swimming legends…two of our biggest sporting stars ever who have won gold medals galore at the world’s greatest championships…but now they’re giving triathlon a try.

Susie O’Neill, 39, and Hayley Lewis, who will turn 39 next month, have put stellar swimming careers behind them and turned to the world of triathlon. Susie did her first Olympic distance tri (1.5km swim, 40km cycle, 10km run) at the iconic Noosa event in 2010 and recorded an amazing 2hrs 29mins, only about 30 minutes behind the elite female winning time. She has focused on team tri events since, including Noosa and the Cairns Half Ironman (1.9km swim, 90km cycle, 21.1km run) last June, in which she did the first and third legs.

But 2013 is a big year for Susie – she turns 40 in August – and wants to mark it with another impressive sporting performance. First up, later this month she will launch a major healthy living initiative in conjunction with food industry leaders. Susie will be the ambassador for a campaign which aims to educate families on the benefits of matching what you eat with the amount of activities you do.

“Basically, people are eating too much and not exercising enough. There is an energy imbalance which is leading to children and adults becoming overweight and suffering from obesity,” the Brisbane mother-of-two says ahead of the campaign launch.

From her own experience, Susie knows the benefits of a balanced diet for her children. She uses the “outside the aisles” adage to shop for fresh food, but doesn’t stop her children from eating particular foods, including sweet treats…“everything in moderation”, she says.

“I know when I was younger and swimming there were certain foods I couldn’t eat, but that just made you want to eat them. We eat lots of breads and cereals, meat and fish, fruit and vegetables. Everyone is a lot happier with healthier food.”

Susie has an active lifestyle with her children but still fits in swimming and cycling each week. Swimming is still an important part of Susie’s fitness regime and she has a Fastlane Swimming Machine in her backyard. It’s a pool with a hydraulic propeller that creates a current to swim against. “It’s like swimming against a river current. I use it three to four times a week and it’s really good. The speed can go as fast as 55 seconds per 100m pace – the world record pace for girls is 52.

She’s looking ahead to more team tri events and maybe another solo crack at Noosa this year. Her interest was piqued when she heard Hayley Lewis had signed up for the 3 November event. “That would be crazy if we both did it. But we might be in different age groups!”

Susie’s 2:29.27 finish time at Noosa was highly respectable, but for a former Olympic champion, even in her late 30s, it was not good enough. She was second in her category but finished 821 out of about 4000 competitors. “I really enjoy being around an event (triathlon). But I must admit I struggle coming so far down the list of placegetters.”

Triathletes are at their peak between age 30 to 50, so it’s the perfect sport for two fit young mums like Susie and Hayley.
The Biggest Loser host is excited about her first Olympic distance triathlon at Noosa. She has hit the running trails of Brisbane, covering between 50 to 70km a week, but admits she’s not enjoying swimming these days. Nevertheless her long-distance swimming experience is likely to be an advantage in the Noosa canal.

Hayley, also a mother-of-two, has been busy filming the latest series of Network Ten’s reality television show in Sydney and fits her own keep-fit routine around it. She has been a champion of healthy living in her role with The Biggest Loser and practises what she preaches as she tries to shed kilos ahead of her triathlon debut.

Give Tri a try
Up to 35,000 Queenslanders do a triathlon – from the 30-minute mini to the 17-hour ironman variety – every year. It is the fastest growing Olympic sport and mass participation sport in Australia. There are 54 affiliated triathlons clubs in the sunshine state with about 3000 people signed up to Triathlon Queensland membership.

The sport of triathlon has grown significantly since its formation in Queensland in 1984 with the help of elite athletes such as Emma Snowsill (Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medallist), Emma Moffat (2009 and 2010 ITU Series world champion), Emma Jackson (Under 23 world champion) and Brad Kahlefeldt (Commonwealth Games gold medallist). But a Triathlon Queensland spokesman says it’s not just a sport for elite athletes. “It’s a sport for all ages and stages with a multitude of distances catering for all levels of ability,” he says.

The two leading triathlon clubs in Brisbane are Tri Alliance Queensland and Red Dog Triathlon Training and each have coaching programs for beginners and experienced athletes of all ages in the different disciplines for triathlon and ironman over a range of distances. But the head coaches of both clubs say it’s not just a sport, it’s a lifestyle, and there’s a “social” side to the training as well.

Red Dog founder and head coach Trent Patten says the squad provides a great social environment with regular Wednesday night dinners proving very popular.

“Whether you are just starting out in the sport, or are looking to take it to the next level, we can help you to achieve your goals.”