Even in her youth, Jodie Swallow-Cunnama was a driven athlete who was tipped as an Olympic hopeful for swimming, track-and-field, and cross-country. Twenty years on, she is a two-time Olympian, three-time world champion in triathlon, and a top contender on every starting line she toes. Bahrain Endurance 13 takes a look at what it takes to become and remain a champion.
BAHRAIN ENDURANCE 13: You’ve been working so hard for so long at an elite level. What’s kept you motivated for 20 years?
JODIE CUNNAMA: I haven’t really ever known anything else. My early school days were sandwiched between training sessions and training has always been a crutch when I have felt misunderstood or confused by life which I often have!
I have always wanted to give my best and to be my best and although I definitely excel at the former I still work at the latter. I am pretty tough on myself and that’s difficult because there are always ways in which we could get faster. That is the conundrum of sport: finding a height that you can be content with and descend from fulfilled.
If my husband [James Cunnama] wasn’t so devoted to a lengthy career I am not sure I would have remained racing for so long but our relationship kept me battling through injury and out the other side. I am still good at it and it still makes me happy so that is all the motivation I really need right now.
BE13: Is it a constant source of motivation or have you had to shift/refocus to find that driving force? How can this apply to age grouper athletes
JC: I have definitely switched source of motivation through the years. In the beginning I had something desperate to prove — probably more to myself than anyone (I suffer from low self-esteem). Nowadays I know I have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. I have showed my credentials time over again, now I want to be a positive role model for younger athletes, to show that you make your own luck and that you can change your life through sport, your family’s life and your own flaws. There is no place I stand taller or speak clearer than when I speak about sport; I don’t feel as shy or inadequate.
BE13: Is there ever a temptation to sit on your laurels?
JC: I do get tired of always being tired. I had hardcore coaches for about five years in the middle of my career there and it is a very vigorous schedule not as much in terms of the training as much as the mindset and lifestyle limitation that they imposed through that scheduling.
Obsession breeds obsession for sure and looking back although it was successful it was not sustainable. As I have matured as an athlete I have tried and probably failed somewhat in balancing life and sport.
James my husband definitely is better at it than I am. When I am old and grey I want to look back with pride but I want to be able to do that with my own family and close friends around, too. If you are too self-obsessed in your career then those things become harder to hang on to.
One of these days I’ll sit on my laurels but I’m sure the next day I’ll be out trying to excel once again.