Lennox Head triathlete is gearing up for a return to racing

FOCUSSED: 2022 is shaping as a big year for Lennox Head professional triathlete Courtney Gilfillan. Pictures Marc Stapelberg.
FOCUSSED: 2022 is shaping as a big year for Lennox Head professional triathlete Courtney Gilfillan. Pictures Marc Stapelberg.

Lennox Head professional triathlete Courtney Gilfillan is primed for the time of her life when international racing returns.

A chance to represent Australia in the women's marathon at the Brisbane Olympic Games in 2032 is just one reason why Courtney Gilfillan is determined to get back on the world stage next year.

First she will set her sights on a return to international triathlon after two years grounded and learning how to balance life and work during the Covid-19 pandemic.

How it started

Courtney comes from an athletic family and started running from a young age growing up at Tuntable Creek.

She initially fell in love with the sport after watching her mother Karen compete at the 2003 World Championships in New Zealand.

The 32-year-old turned professional in 2010 having already won junior world championships in her age division.

She earned a silver medal at the 2011 Singapore ITU Triathlon and the 2015 Mooloolaba Triathlon Oceania Cup.

Her first endurance victory came at the 2015 Challenge Forster event over the 70.3 distance.

During that time she moved to the Gold Coast where she studied journalism and took on public speaking and coaching roles before eventually moving to Lennox Head a few years ago.

"I started in track and field and competed in my first national championship at 10 years of age," Courtney recalls.

"My mum competed in triathlon at the world championships and I ended following her into it.

"I just loved triathlon and I've been able to turn into a career."

How Covid-19 changed her plans and what 2022 will look like

Courtney was building for a big 2020 after wins at Japan and South Korea in 2019.

She also finished third in the IM 70.3 in the Philippines.

"It was a massive change, I had big plans to race overseas with a focus on world championships," Courtney says.

"My last trip was New Zealand last year and Covid-19 hit about a month later.

"I was really happy to win at Japan after coming from short course into middle distance racing."

Courtney expects to be back competing next year as events return to the racing calendar.

Freedom to move around Australia and the gradual return of international travel will allow her to be back on the world stage.

"I'd love a podium or top five finish in an open event at the world championships," Courtney says.

"I definitely want to qualify for the (long distance) ironman world championships while competing well and getting results in 70.3 world series races over the next few years."

Financial strains of being a professional triathlete

"I've never been involved in the sport for money but I run my own business and races are an opportunity to make money," Courtney says.

"We've still had to fork out money for insurance and potential races that may or may no go ahead.

"It's been difficult to sustain in an industry where the events have lost so much money as well.

"Mentally I've been very good at reassessing and letting go of what I can't control.

"It is hard when you see events going ahead in Queensland when we're not allowed to go, I usually go on a two-hour run or find something to take my mind of it when they're on.

"I've always used sport as a coping mechanism for family stress and when I've gone through hard times.

"I'm very lucky to have this sport and it's taken me all over the world.

"I have to do whatever it takes to get overseas next year and I've been preparing myself financially for that.

"I've been setting up my own fitness and health business with online coaching.

"That's my future with part-time work while still training fulltime.

"I love the Lennox Head lifestyle and I've really started to build a community around my business."

Learning more about the mental side of sport as a coach

"I like knowing what people want out of sport, there is nothing that speaks more than having the experience to be a role model for them," Courtney says.

"I feel like as I've hit my 30s I have plenty of knowledge under my belt and I'm at a place where I can give something back with training kids.

"Any work I do with juniors is rewarding, whether it's teaching them how to run or just answering questions about how I live my life.

"I don't like being negative, I try to create an avenue to teach people about health and the sacrifices you need to make to be a professional athlete.

"I keep very busy with my health and fitness and enjoy helping other people with all that extra energy I have."

What a normal day looks like for a professional triathlete

"I wake up early and I'll do a 90 minutes pool session before jumping on the bike for three hours," Courtney says.

"From there it's a 40 minute run and strength session.

"I'm on supplements between training and from there it's fruit and all the usual foods with recovery, too.

"I enjoy chocolate and a glass of wine but I eat very healthy and it's all a lifestyle choice for me."

Future plans with a long-term Olympic Games goal on home soil at Brisbane in 2032.

"I obviously plan to get married and have kids one day but I'd love to come back and run a marathon at the Olympic Games in Brisbane," Courtney said.

"I'll be around 42 by then and that's often the age that women are performing at that level.

"I've always wanted to do marathons and this is a new goal I've set during the Covid period.

"It's a dream to be part of an Australian Olympic team and I'm about to hit my peak as a professional athlete in the next few years.

"I feel like my best years are ahead of me for long course racing and I'll be really focussed on that.

"I've obviously struggled with the fact that I've lost two years of my career during this period so it helps to have some long-term goals.

"When it's taken away from you, you get a good indication of how much you want it.

"I really think I can achieve some great things and I'm definitely not done yet."

Training under world champion Tim Reed and a strong triathlon team

One of the perks of moving to Lennox Head has been the chance to train under Australian ironman champion Tim Reed.

Turning professional in 2010, Reed has been a champion on the long course triathlon circuit with over 80 professional podium finishes, winning 23 Ironman 70.3 distance events, Ironman Australia, National and Regional championships and in 2016 won the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

"Tim has been mentoring me in how to cope without racing for the last two years," Courtney says

"We've done a lot of work over that time and I'm really lucky to have someone like him living where I am."

"He helped get me ready for my first ever ironman event this year and I had the opportunity to take that on in Cairns when there weren't any other of my usual events on.

"It was a really good experience, I finished it in under 10 hours and was the seventh professional female to finish."

Reed is one of the lucky ones, having been able to head overseas this month and compete in the United States.

He is in high demand as a coach and has had a big influence on triathletes in the Far North Coast region.

"He's become a really good friend and an invaluable training buddy," Courtney says.

"It's been a tough time mentally for coaches during the pandemic and it's amazing with how well he's handling it.

"If anyone deserves to be back competing at the moment it's definitely him."