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Ironman-bound Wellington paramedic won’t be defined by heart issues

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Wellington paramedic Laura Robertson is determined that her heart condition will not define her. One way of ensuring that is the case is to take on the Nutri-Grain Ironman New Zealand event, something the 28-year-old will do in March next year thanks in part to a Tony Jackson Scholarship.

Robertson’s fitness journey started seven years ago, when the then fitness trainer was studying for a degree in exercise physiology and came to the realization she needed to stop and look after herself rather than her clients and went about losing 35kg.

The irony is that in losing that weight, Robertson developed a mildly debilitating heart arrhythmia, a condition that had not bothered her when she was, in her own words, ‘fat’.

“You can imagine what my brain thought: Go back to being large! I attempted to enter some events but after having to pull out before the start line of multiple half-marathons due to my heart troubles I entered a reasonably dark place.

“A failed ablation procedure in 2014 meant that I was stuck with this for life. For the first few months I was consumed and identified by it and then my attitude changed. I couldn’t change it; this was now a part of me and I needed to move on, much like Tony’s attitude. We as humans cannot dwell or be consumed by something completely out of our control.”

That attitude has taken Laura on quite a journey, one that sees her chosen as one of two recipients of the Tony Jackson Scholarship, awarded each year to assist in the preparation for and completion of Ironman.

Robertson thought the call from Ironman Regional Director Chris Randle was going to be bad news.

“When Chris rang me, I was absolutely blown away. When he said he was calling regarding the Tony Jackson scholarship I was certain it was ‘the rejection call’.

“I was in the middle of a reasonably challenging day at work and had to remove myself from a full office due to the inappropriate oversized smile across my face. My next reaction was I definitely can’t defer my dream to 2021 now, I want to race to my greatest ability in legacy and honour of Tony.”

The call was one that would have seemed most unlikely just a couple of years back.

“My triathlon journey started two years ago, like most with a local sprint tri in Kapiti, and I moved on to half distance events reasonably quickly,” said Robertson.

“I had always told myself and others that I would absolutely never complete a full IRONMAN, however after watching the amazing athletes at the 2019 IRONMAN New Zealand event, volunteering at the sweat 7 aid station and the experience of the last hour on the red carpet, my stern ‘no’ began to become a ‘maybe’.

With a thorough understanding and acceptance of her own heart condition and daily exposure to emergencies in her work as a paramedic, Robertson is even more motivated to conquer Taupo in March next year.

“I work in an environment surrounded by disease and medical emergencies and people who are less fortunate than me. Understanding physiology and how the human body functions makes me want to challenge it and push the boundaries.

“IRONMAN for me is going to be the biggest physical but most of all mental and emotional challenge I have ever undertaken. I ultimately want to see what I am capable of. I believe physically the body is able to complete the distance, but do I have the mental drive and strength to pull myself out of those dark holes, and keeping moving forward one stroke, one bicycle pedal and one step at a time?”

Robertson is fully aware of the responsibility that comes with a Tony Jackson Scholarship, it something she embraces and hopes to use to inspire others, just as Tony did.

“The message I hope to send to others from my IRONMAN journey is that barriers are merely obstacles to challenge us, not to hold us back or hinder us. Overcoming barriers leads to immense pride and elation. If an IRONMAN journey was easy, then everybody would be completing it.

“I hope from my IRONMAN journey that just one person who has doubted their ability to complete something challenging whether an ironman or something else steps up and faces the challenge head on, no matter how many obstacles stand in their way.”

Robertson has always enjoyed the support of family and friends, something she will continue to rely on throughout her IRONMAN preparation.

“My parents and sister have always been my biggest cheerleaders. They were the first people I rang and broke the news to about the scholarship and I even remember the conversation telling them I was going to enter a full IRONMAN. It started with ‘but you said absolutely never would you do this’, to constant queries on my training updates.

“My work colleagues are also big supporters, often questioning what ridiculous training sessions I had done before arriving at work or encouraging honks from the ambulance when I am out cycling or running.

“I have a coach Ngarama Milner-Olsen the founder of mobile fitness solutions, not only is she my biggest idol (sorry Carl) but she has created a training family of like-minded people. Being a shift worker means I can’t always attend squad training sessions but when I do there is another level of comradery and competitiveness. We are similar people, experiencing the same barriers and struggles, so why not do it together.”

“I want to thank IRONMAN New Zealand and Verna for this incredible opportunity. I cannot wait to do Tony proud out on course come March 7th 2020.”

What is the Tony Jackson Scholarship?
The annual scholarship offers a deserving athlete an IRONMAN New Zealand event package (including entry), to enable them to participant in IRONMAN New Zealand.
The scholarship is set up to support athletes that without this support may not be able to participate in the IRONMAN New Zealand event.

What does the 2020 scholarship include?

Entry into 2020 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand
Two nights’ accommodation in Taupo prior to the event for training
VIP tickets for 2 to official event week functions
A Boost Coaching Package – or coaching package from your local region
A Performance Bicycle Tuning Bike Fit
12-month Fitter Coffee Club membership
Kellogg’s Tri Suit
$1500 financial contribution towards training, gear, nutrition etc (Kellogg’s)

Who was Tony Jackson?
Tony competed in New Zealand’s first IRONMAN event in 1985 at the age of 45. Tony continued to compete in every IRONMAN New Zealand event for 28 years until 2013. Tony was the epitome of the IRONMAN spirit; a man who quietly managed to mentor, encourage, guide, instruct, coach and enthuse every day, ordinary people into doing things they had thought impossible to achieve.
Tony’s mantra to fellow athletes was, “Nothing is impossible…to the willing mind.” To many, competing in any triathlon seemed a formidably impossible thing to achieve. Competing in an IRONMAN seemed well beyond comprehension. Those with the willing minds were guided by Tony and managed to achieve what they had once thought impossible. Scores of athletes benefited from Tony’s quiet and wise coaching.
By his own admission Tony was never a world beater – but the records do show he could turn out some good times. He qualified for Kona many times, but only went to three – podium placing in 1988 in 11 hours 35 mins.
At Christmas 2007, Tony was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was given the life expectancy of 12 weeks.
10 weeks later, with the thought of only having about two more weeks to live – and in the middle of radiotherapy and chemotherapy Tony started and finished his, and New Zealand’s 24th IRONMAN.
For the next five years – despite more brain surgery operations, plastic surgery and a stroke, Tony started and completed five more IRONMAN New Zealand events. Each year he coached and mentored scores of fellow athletes to achieve their goals yet having to undergo major difficulties in his own health and training.
Tony passed away in March 2013.
This scholarship is IRONMAN New Zealand’s way of continuing Tony’s belief, to each person out there – that, like everything in life, including IRONMAN – ‘Nothing is impossible…to the willing mind’.

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