Age no handicap to determined triathlete
Sibling spurs Hamill to reactivate her world champ career. Aaron Goile reports.
After winning world championship titles at the age of 41, Rachel Hamill is now wondering what she could have achieved at the peak of her powers.
The Waikato mother of three last month took out the women's 40-44 years age-group triathlon event at the world championships in Auckland, as well as winning the aquathlon race five days earlier.
And remarkably, Hamill, who is married to former rower Rob Hamill, is doing times as good as she was producing in her 20s which got her to two previous world champs.
In the aquathlon, which was a 1km swim then a 5km run, Hamill finished in 34 minutes and 29 seconds to win by more than three minutes.
Then in the triathlon - 1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run - she powered home in two hours, 15 minutes and 48 seconds, which was almost nine minutes clear of the second place-getter and put her second overall out of all women in the age-group races.
"I was lucky, it really did play to my strengths because it was a choppy swim and I'm a strong swimmer and it was a hilly and windy bike course," Hamill said.
Originally from England, Hamill moved to New Zealand 12 years ago and had done less than a year's training before heading into last month's world champs.
Her sister Alison Hamilton, 49, a former world champion, floated the idea of the two of them getting back into it.
"She said to me in November ‘why don't we try and get in the triathlon [New Zealand] team. We haven't done any for 20 years but let's try and do that'," Hamill said.
"My first thought was just to make the team. I had no thought at that point of making a podium finish or anything like that."
Hamill was a swimmer from the age of 10 to 18 but followed Hamilton, who finished 12th in the 45-49 years age-group at this year's world champs, into the sport of triathlon.
Hamill contested her first world champs in 1991 and while her sister won a title on that occasion, Hamill was not so fortunate, crashing on the bike after leading out of the water.
The next year she competed again but suffered a puncture on the bike. Then the following year she broke her arm badly in the lead-up to the competition.
So all that took its toll and she decided to pull the pin.
"I never really gave triathlon a good go and I realise that now," she said.
Under the tutelage of Craig Albery at the Te Awamutu Swimming Club, Hamill last year won five national age-group titles in Masters swimming events. She then began training with local triathletes Candice Hammond and Keegan Williams.
She asked Williams to be her coach and he writes her some tough sessions, which include plenty of work on the hills which surround her Te Pahu home.
"I thought, well, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it properly," Hamill said.
"The first four weeks I could hardly walk because my legs just weren't used to running and cycling like that."
In February Hamill competed at the sprint national championships and after just two months of training she won by three minutes and finished third overall, having ridden on a really old bike.
That result made her think about the world champs being a possibility.
The following month at the national Olympic distance event in Wellington she started pondering the chance of a podium finish at the world champs after winning her age-group, despite tearing her achilles.
"I couldn't walk the next day, I was on crutches.
"The last two and a half k[ms] I was in agony but I knew I had to finish to qualify, so I had to keep going because I didn't have any history of doing any triathlons in New Zealand other than two sprint events that I'd done. So I didn't know whether they would let me qualify on those."
Hamill is an inspiration to anyone who thinks they're too old or too busy to compete at that level.
She trains twice a day for between two to three hours, and gets one day off a month.
In between that she home-schools children Declan, 8, and Ivan, 5, while 10-year-old Finn goes to school, and husband Rob is overseas for a fair chunk of time.
"Sometimes it's a little bit difficult," she said. "The kids do after-school activities, like swimming, dancing and touch rugby, and it's just me trying to get them there and get them fed and trying to fit in a training session."
Having gone without a coach in her earlier days, Hamill said she performs much better with having somebody else telling her what to do.
"If I set myself the training session I'm much more likely to go, ‘ah, I won't do that today'. But when Keegan sets it I feel a responsibility to pull my finger out and do what he's told me to do.
"He doesn't let me dwell on my age. I sometimes go ‘I'm 41, how can I do that?' He just sets me sessions and says do that."
And Hamill admitted she does think about what could have been.
"Oh absolutely. But I can't turn the clock back so there's no point in spending too much time thinking about it.
"I'm kicking myself because I'm doing the times I was doing when I was in my 20s.
"So I obviously didn't push myself very hard back then. I didn't really have a coach. I didn't really want to go down that path again.
"Having so many other things to do in my life now, it makes me a bit more focused.
"I know that if I don't do my training there, then I'm going to miss it today because I've got too many other things.
"Whereas when I was younger I didn't have very much else. I was doing it fulltime and I spent all day doing nothing."
Hamill said with all her commitments something did of course have to slip, and in her case it's the section at her home.
"I've got a very untidy garden, no vegetables growing this year, and my house is a mess.
"When I hang up my running shoes I'll tidy my garden up."
So when will that be?
"I don't know. I've been very, very focused on the world champs and now I've achieved what I've set out to do, get the gold medal.
"Now I'm just going to do the national Contact Tri-Series and just see how I go there. I guess my focus is more on finishing out of all the women rather than my age-group."
Hamill is preparing a defence of her world champs title in London next year. Both she and Hamilton are set to compete there as they're going to be visiting their father in the UK for his 80th birthday.