Daniel Nelson dreams of winning a world ironman title.
That dream has taken the New Plymouth surf lifesaver to the Gold Coast where he is training fulltime.
The 22-year-old, who still competes for the East End club, is now starting to reap the rewards from the hours of hard training.
At last weekend's national surf lifesaving championships at Mt Maunganui, Nelson claimed his first open men's title, winning the ski race.
"It was like Christmas. I finished second in the ironman two years ago and you don't usually see ironmen featuring in the ski races, so I'm pretty happy to win this," he said.
Nelson, who was born in New Plymouth and attended Mangorei Primary before heading to New Plymouth Boys' High School, has been based in Australia for four years.
"I stayed at Boys' High until year 13 but only did the first term because I wanted to compete in Taranaki secondary schools' surf lifesaving champs and the swimming sports," he said.
"I was a prefect but made the big call to quit school, get into the work force and get some money under my belt to set myself up in Australia and start my ironman career."
Nelson said he worked as a kitchen joiner for a while, then as a bricklayer.
"I've vowed never to do labour for a job again," he laughed.
Nelson said he had always been into water sports at school.
"Surf lifesaving, swimming ... I had surfing as a subject once a week."
So why surf lifesaving?
"It's a sport where it all comes down to you and how hard you train. I was never too co-ordinated, so ball sports were out of the question," he said.
"I love having the beach as my training ground. A lot of the training we do is in the waves. It's fun, so you forget about the pain."
Nelson said he thought ironman was the hardest sport in the world to train for.
"There are four disciplines – ski, swim, board and running. To be the best, you can't afford to have a weak leg, so I often find myself doing three or four sessions a day – each can be up to an hour," he said
"I also swim in the pool. I'm there by 5am and train for two hours each morning. There's also a bit of gym work, so I have a strong core preventing injury down the track."
Nelson said the advantages of training in Australia were the weather and training with the best athletes.
"The climate is warm all year round, so we don't stop training in the winter. In New Zealand, you don't get that luxury. I would often find myself kayaking up and down the Waitara River as a teenager rugged in rashies, wetsuits and booties but still shivering my ass off," he said.
"Over here, we will be in the ocean in the middle of winter in nothing but our `dickys' on ... that's what the Aussies call speedos over here."
An added bonus is that he trains daily with world and Nutri Grain ironman champion Shannon Eckstine, who is at the champion Northcliffe Surf Club with Nelson.
"I love getting up and training every day and just putting my body through hell. The ultimate goal is to win the New Zealand ironman title, then win the world tittle. It's something I think about every day," said the man who finished ninth in his first national ironman race when he was 15.
To fund his sporting passion, he works at a surf club restaurant. "It's enough to get by. They work my shifts around my training, so it's good in that respect as I need most of the days off for training or sleeping."
He's also dabbled in the acting field to make a dollar or two.
"It's taken off a lot faster than I ever could have imagined. My biggest role was in the feature film BATE3D where I had a small part as a lifeguard," he said.
"I also got to play Julian McMahon's body double. Julian's famous for his lead role in Nip Tuck and playing Dr Doom in Fantastic Four. I can see myself following the acting career and when I retire from surf ... maybe a move to Hollywood and take acting seriously."
Surf lifesaving seems to run in the family. Nelson's younger brother Ben won the under-16 men's board race at Mt Maunganui last weekend, while 20-year-old Scott often teams with Daniel in competitions.
"Ben had a good nationals and I can see him moving to Northcliffe soon. I'm sure he will be snapping at my heels in a couple of years. Scott is right into the sport and he's also a capable IRB driver," he said.
His older sister, Melissa, graduated as a medical lab scientist and is living in Hamilton.
Nelson said his parents, Denise and Graeme, live in New Plymouth with his two brothers.
"Mum and Dad are hugely supportive and are always waiting for me at the airport when I fly over for competitions," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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