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A five month journey to becoming a triathlete

In September, Hever Castle saw the culmination of a 5 month journey as 10 brave women, all of whom have had or in some cases continue to battle the curse of breast cancer, took on the Supersprint triathlon.

Hever Castle Triathlon Team P Hoenix Firebirds

Team Phoenix Firebirds - Complete their triathlon journey

Saturday 24th September saw the culmination of a 5 month journey as 10 brave women, all of whom have had or in some cases continue to battle the curse of breast cancer, took on the Hever Castle Supersprint triathlon, consisting of a 400m swim, 20km bike ride and 4km run.

Usually starting in May each year, the Team Phoenix Foundation partner with Medway Tri who provide a tailored programme of training including a pool swim, closed road bike and track run session every week as well as weekend rides and evening lake swims at the fabulous Leybourne Lakes Watersports Centre to prepare them to take on the fearsome Hever Castle Supersprint triathlon with its murky waters and undulating roads each September.

The programme sees the women come together to find mutual support and friendship, creating long-lasting bonds through their shared experiences of breast cancer and the challenge of taking on Hever, that often endure through the years that follow.

At the same time the training builds stamina, fitness, and supports mental health as the participants experience environments completely foreign to them such as swimming in lakes, and riding on country roads where few venture. As coach Rob Brackstone says ‘the ladies are so brave, and signing up to do a triathlon after having been through what is a fight for their lives against cancer, is brave beyond words. It genuinely shows how the participation in the lifestyle of triathlon, getting out there to swim, ride and run, with friends and peers, no matter who you are or your level of ability, can go far beyond competition, racing or sport and instead really change lives’.

This year Joan Mabonga signed up to the challenge without being able to swim or ride a bicycle and despite the reduction in the time available for delivery of sessions as the programme could not commence until June due to COVID restrictions. She completed her 400m swim in 29 mins, romped up the hills on the 20km bike, and went on to wear a huge smile for the remainder of the event. Another participant continued to undergo chemotherapy each week alongside her training. 2021 also saw other challenges as the ladies overcame injury as well as cases of COVID with nothing able to prevent all ten women completing the programme and crossing the finish line together in just under four hours of determined effort.

Mentors Liz Sim and Lauren Eglinton accompanied charity trustee and mentor Sharon Griffin with the team as they made their way around the course, being applauded and cheered at every turn by programme participants from years past as well as family and friends. The finish line saw tears and cheers from well wishers as much as the ladies themselves, showing how much their efforts meant to all involved. A brilliant day that concluded with a deserved glass of prosecco and the glow of knowing that, as is the case every year, our group of firebirds signed up to something and completed something that goes far beyond triathlon and genuinely transcends sport.

In the picture:

L to R (rear) Amanda Gobell, Imelda Bell, Jodi Butterfield, Ellen Gilbert, Elizabeth Hall, Beverley Gibbs, Nicola Kite, Rachel Collins

L to R (front) Joan Mabonga, Rob Brackstone (coach)

Robert Brackstone Contributing Editor O Utside Active