What does a kid growing up on a sugar cane farm in North Queensland do to burn bucket loads of energy off? Run and never stop running.
With parallels to a Kenyan childhood I used to run up and down the paddocks behind the tractors, resting only for smoko and lunch. Unbeknown to me I was laying the foundations for the career path I chose as a professional triathlete.
Through school I loved the competitive running season and then the swimming season. When my first triathlon event came along it was the perfect link, so I didn’t lose too much swim fitness while running and vice versa when swimming, making the transition much easier. As time went on Triathlon was where I wanted to make my mark and hopefully one day represent Australia.
Life as a professional athlete was a dream I’d held as a young athlete. The Northern Hemisphere was where the action was, so off I went from my tiny sugar town in North Queensland, where the highest of aspirations were reserved for a good job in the sugar mill. It was a dream of mine to chase the summers and perform on a world stage. I wanted to go head to head with those that I’d only ever read about in a magazine. How do they compare and what could I do to challenge their reputations? Questions that only a packed bag and a head full of bravado could answer.
The first time I travelled overseas was in 1989 as part of the Australian team, to compete in the first official world champs in Avignon, France. The trip must have been some form of initiation as we dodged bullets from the onset. After the mandatory thirty–hour milk run of a flight, we hit Paris glad to check our contorted bodies at the door and move on with wide eyes and open minds to the adventure ahead.
With so much luggage, it was decided that most of the team would catch a train and fellow team mates Greg Welch, Nick Croft and I would hire a truck and drive the day down to the South of France.
After negotiating the streets of Paris and taking a photo of every church that we saw thinking it was the biggest and best we would ever see, that is until the next one, we finally reached the Peage’ or national highway.
By this time, we hadn’t slept for 35 hours and the last I saw was Crofty at the wheel pouring water over his head before I fell asleep. I awoke with a jolt and a view that had me thinking the French really had lush vegetation close to the highway and rough roads…
That was until I realised that we weren’t actually on the road and Welchie grabbing the wheel wasn’t just because he wanted a turn. We had driven off the highway at 120km/h in a scene from the movie “Vacation” where if someone had driven past, they could have panned across and seen three Aussies heads back and mouths open catching flies hurtling down the highway. There’s nothing like a near death experience to improve morale and that laid the foundation of what was to come, but that’s another story!
That trip was just indicative of life on the road. There were a lot of situations that made the travel tough but also memorable. Times such as sleeping on train platforms, lost luggage and immigration run ins, but as they say it was the best of times it was the worst of times.
My years overseas have taken me to bases in Boulder Colorado, Provence France, and San Diego where I had spent my early career racing in places such as Vancouver where a little misadventure always followed.
In those days Greg Welch and I used to live with each other in San Diego and Boulder. In 1990 our lead up to Worlds that year was somewhat interesting.
After a race in Whistler, Canada, Welchie and I decided to do some dare devil slalom mountain biking down Whistler mountain. Flying down with tears in the eyes and the picture-perfect scenery a blur, the mountain swallowed us both up at the same time as we probably slipped on testosterone usually reserved for competition. In hospital a very large and less than petite nurse tended my wounds with a scrubbing brush in hand. We lay there contemplating world champs but a month away. At least I was as Welchie was receiving a dose of shock therapy, the Canadians said he was just going into shock from the accident but I think, as I was filling in the forest of forms, they tried a little “foreign current-cy”.
He started shaking violently after the lights dimmed momentarily and I’m sure I heard the nurse grunting as she shuffled away “Australia 240 volts ha, they can’t handle 120”. Anyway, after we were “discharged” (Welchie more than me), we were off to the airport to fly back to San Diego. I think the nurse had rung ahead to immigration to detain an Aussie with hair on end and emitting a curious burnt smell. As I left him to catch our flight, he was pleading his case with customs and our Worlds preparation was looking grim. Who was to know that a month later we went first and second with a somewhat questionable preparation?
Things not always went smoothly but my philosophy when racing overseas was to plan well, don’t talk back to immigration officers and the rest should all fall into place, well maybe in a perfect world, but that was part of the adventure.
Brad Beven OAM
Byron Bay Triathlon Ambassador
ITU World Hall of Fame
Australia Hall of Fame