Former Surf Life Saver, Ironwoman turned Professional Triathlete (and Registered Nurse), Australia’s Emma Jeffcoat is equal parts resilient, focused, and community-minded. She is also one of six triathletes preparing to race the individual and teams relay events in Tokyo this month.
Ahead of her departure, Emma visited Honan HQ for a chat with our CEO Andrew Fluitsma and COO Laurence Basell. Sharing her incredible journey to date, Emma covered the benefits of exercise for mental health and wellbeing, and the biggest risks she has taken to get this far.
FIRST UP, QUALIFYING FOR A SPORTING EVENT OF THIS CALIBRE IS NO EASY FEAT! WHAT WOULD YOUR TEN-YEAR-OLD SELF THINK OF THIS ACHIEVEMENT?
She would think it was a dream come true, literally! A true sports fanatic, I played so many different sports as a kid, always watched the Olympics and my family is very competitive. To know I’d made that dream come true would blow my 10-year-old self’s mind.
WHAT FIRST DREW YOU INTO THE WORLD OF TRIATHLON? DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE?
By the end of high school, I knew I wanted to be a professional athlete on an international level. I remember being challenged on this at high school. People would say “What happens if you’re not good enough?” or “What happens if you break a bone?”. My response was always “Yeah, but it’s what I want to do, it’s my dream”.
Any time you win a race on the circuit, it’s just incredible. It’s what you go out to achieve every time, but quite often the stars don’t align.
For me, winning cements the belief that you can be the best, and when you pull it off, it’s so surreal! You just think “I actually made this happen”.
Nothing beats that feeling after a good race. Then you go back to training the next day and think “ah, back to work!”
HIT US WITH YOUR TOP THREE CAREER MILESTONES TO DATE.
- Lately, it’s been making the Australian Team! Someone told me the other day that in its 21 years as an Olympic event, I’m around the 20th female to make the Team. For a country with such high-quality triathletes over this period of time, I feel even more proud.
- Making it to the World Championship podium Mixed Team Relay in 2019.
- My World Cup series wins in Mooloolaba (Australia), Chengdu (China), and Tiszaujvaro (Hungary).
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR TRAINING SCHEDULE?
Physical training alone is around 35 hours a week – that involves six swims, six runs, five rides, three gym sessions, and three Pilates sessions. On top, there’s treatment and recovery – physiotherapy, massage, seeing an acupuncturist or chiropractor. Then there are additional things like seeing a dietitian and doing meal prep, which is a big part of my day, starting the day prior! It’s also important to get enough sleep and stretch…so it’s definitely a full-time gig! I try to keep myself balanced though. I’m not someone who thrives when I’m completely triathlon focussed, so I still do things I enjoy like seeing friends and going out for dinner, but I tone that down ahead of races. If I were to treat myself, it would be going out for pizza and an ice cream later!
HOW HAVE YOU MAINTAINED FOCUS AND MOTIVATION IN THE FACE OF DISAPPOINTMENT AND SETBACKS OVER THE YEARS?
Especially after the uncertainty over the last 18 months, a lot of people have asked how I stay motivated.
It’s funny because even though this epic event was delayed, I never once questioned whether I’d be motivated to keep at it. That really made me realise how much I love the sport and the work I put into it. For me, the motivation comes from genuinely wanting to be the best version of myself in what I do.
There are some days that I’m not feeling it and I struggle to get out of bed, but for the most part, my motivation is to be better than the me I was yesterday and not to compare myself to others. It’s really easy in individual sports, but what I have learned through injuries and challenges is that comparing yourself to someone else steals the joy out of the sport, and you start devaluing yourself.
HONAN HAS IMPLEMENTED A WELLBEING PROGRAM AS PART OF ITS SOCIAL IMPACT STRATEGY, AND YOU RECENTLY JOINED IN ONE OF OUR INITIATIVES AS WE LAUNCHED OUR NEW CYCLING KITS. COULD YOU SHARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS EXERCISE HAS HAD FOR YOUR WELLBEING?
Exercise influences whether or not I have a good day. I always feel better after I do it. You might be having a bad week, but if you make a start, whether that’s going for a walk for a coffee or a swim, a ride or run, whatever that looks like, you’re guaranteed to feel better afterward. Even when some days feel overwhelming, after making a start and getting some fresh air, you can generally feel able to get through what lies ahead.
WE OFTEN TALK ABOUT PERSONAL, PROFESSIONAL, AND SPORTING ACHIEVEMENTS IN TERMS OF RISK AND REWARD. WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE TAKEN IN YOUR CAREER TO DATE AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN?
At the end of 2019, I moved to Melbourne. I’m such a home and family orientated person and I’ve always lived in Sydney. I wanted to be coached by Danielle Stefano (based in Melbourne), but to do that required relocation. My life was in Sydney, I had just bought an apartment, I was working casually as a nurse, and I didn’t know many people in Melbourne. Faced with this choice, my Dad told me to lean in and go for it.
Whenever I feel cautious about something, I’ll look at the options, and where I can, I lean into challenges. Even if it doesn’t work out, at least you’re not left with questions or regrets.
Making the move was the best decision and the risk paid off. The improvements my coach Danielle and I have made together have been unbelievable.
AT HONAN, WE’RE ALWAYS INSPIRED BY THOSE WHO EMBRACE INNOVATION AND THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY. WHAT ROLE DO INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY PLAY IN YOUR PERFORMANCE AND TRAINING?
The biggest change has been to our bikes. The technology in the bikes is so impressive in terms of aerodynamics – the wheels are disc wheels instead of rim brake wheels, the marginal gains you can make through knocking 100 grams off here, or changing your setup on the bike means you can improve your pace by up to 5km/hr because your shoulders are more tucked. For running, it’s the famous carbon plated shoes. It’s like running on a trampoline.
Coming from winter in Melbourne, acclimatising to the conditions in Japan will be a big adjustment, but the technology we have makes this more manageable. I’m currently training in a chamber that’s set at 35 degrees, with 70-90% humidity. It’s really tough!
COVID RESTRICTIONS MEAN THIS GLOBAL SPORTING EVENT WILL LOOK A LITTLE DIFFERENT, WITH NO CROWDS, LIMITED GATHERINGS, AND TIME SPENT WITH YOUR TEAMMATES. HOW ARE YOU PREPARING FOR THIS?
For triathlon, it’s less of a factor than swimming or athletics. For us, there often aren’t large crowds because we travel long distances. What will be hard is adjusting our expectations. Our friends and families won’t be there to support and celebrate with us, and it will be a fortnight until we can see them. We have an awesome triathlon team though, and we’re very close. My coach is coming over too, which makes a huge difference!
MAINTAINING QUALITY CONNECTIONS WITH OUR PEOPLE, PARTNERS, AND THE COMMUNITY SITS AT THE HEART OF WHAT WE DO AT HONAN. WHAT RELATIONSHIPS & CONNECTIONS HAVE BEEN CRITICAL TO YOUR SUCCESS?
My family and friends are my support. Although some of them don’t quite understand what I do, they back me 110% and that means the world to me. If I have an average race, my friends just give the best advice and say, “Well there’s another race in two weeks”. It definitely puts things in perspective! My coach Danielle has been amazing. On days where I don’t back myself, she reminds me why she backs me and challenges me to be the best version of myself. She’s been pretty instrumental over the last two years.
WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO SOMEONE CURIOUS ABOUT GETTING INVOLVED IN TRIATHLON?
You don’t have to be amazing at all three legs! I wasn’t, I could just swim, and I’d never ridden a road bike! Honestly, just give it a go and have fun with it. Find a group of like-minded people, give it a crack. It is quite addictive. Triathlon is challenging, so set a goal, enjoy the process and the feeling…you’ll know what I mean once you do one!
YOU’RE HEADING OFF SHORTLY, TELL US WHAT THE NEXT TWO WEEKS WILL LOOK LIKE?
We’ll taper from this week, so the total time and distance in training will decrease a bit. This allows you to freshen up so by race day you’re energised and ready to go.
We fly out this week, (with regular Covid testing in between) and will be living in the village. Racing for the women is on the 27th and the mixed team relay is on July 31st. Then we’ll be out in 48 hours, so the time will fly. I just want to make the most of it because it’s going to go so quickly.
THREE WORDS TO CAPTURE HOW YOU’RE FEELING RIGHT NOW?
Proud. Humbled. Stoked!
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE TO YOU IN 2021?
My Dad asked me that the other day. It’s not about the outcome. It’s about walking away from the experience knowing I gave 100% on the day. One thing I’ve learned from listening to former Olympians is that while they realise what an accomplishment it was in hindsight, they were too stressed or focussed or hard on themselves that they didn’t enjoy the experience at the time.
Representing Australia is a huge achievement in itself! I race best when I’m comfortable, relaxed, and out there to have fun. I know I’m going to give 100% on race day and there’s not much more that I can ask of myself!
Discover more in our Q&A Series: Catapult Sports.
Photography by: Stef Hanson Productions