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5 weeks ago Sarah Crowley broke two ribs and her sternum. Somehow she’s still racing in Cairns

The defending champion is back, but it's been an incredible journey to get here

Photo by: Dale Travers

You don’t finish on the podium in Kona unless you’re tough. (She’s done it twice.) You don’t become the first person to win Australia’s Triple Crown – Ironman Australia, the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship Cairns and Ironman Western Australia – in the same year unless grit and determination are deeply embedded in your DNA. You don’t have eight Ironman wins and the World Triathlon Long Distance Championship title on your resume unless you can handle lots of pain and suffering.

But even this has to be a bit of a stretch, even for Sarah Crowley.

(And here’s what’s even more frightening – despite what you’re about to read, it’s hard to imagine she still isn’t the prohibitive favourite for tomorrow’s Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship Cairns.)

Photo: Dale Travers

To say the first part of 2023 has been full of challenges for Crowley would be the understatement of the year. In March she switched coaches, moving on from Cameron Watt to his former mentor, Brett Sutton. At the end of that month Crowley cruised up to the Philippines for Ironman 70.3 Davao, which she won.

In April, though, a scan showed she had a melanoma on her arm that needed to be removed. After the surgery, Crowley was told she’d need to take a few weeks out of the pool to let the 5 cm gash in her arm heal. I wonder who that doctor thought he was talking to?

She did take a day off of swim training, and was back in the pool a couple of days after the surgery.

“I just found a way to cover it up,” Crowley says matter of factly. “Modern waterproof bandages are pretty amazing.”

Sure. We’ll go with that.

Then, while competing at the Moreton Bay Multisport Festival on May 19, Crowley crashed on her bike coming into transition, breaking two ribs and her sternum.

“I was coming off the bike – I literally came off the bike,” she says. “I twisted my foot from the pedal and my foot came out. My whole weight was on it and I just came straight off.”

(Click on the link below to see just how hard Crowley came down.)



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Crowley spent “three or four minutes on the ground,” then decided she was good to go.

“I could tell it was just pain, so I ran it out,” she says.

Sure, we’ll go with that, too. She finished the 15 km run and was second overall.

Since she’d done a tough brick workout a few days before the race, it was decided she could take an “easier week” after the crash.

Welcome to Cairns, Ironman’s best event

Once an MRI revealed the broken ribs and sternum, Crowley embarked on an ambitious training regimen that would have driven most mortal beings absolutely insane. She swam with a snorkel to keep her head straight. She couldn’t do flip turns and would have to stop at each end of the pool.

“There were quite a few swims where we would do a bunch of 50s,” she says. “One hundred 50s. Pull buoy, snorkel. Up and back. One day they put the bulkhead in – that meant 200 lengths of 25.”

She rode indoors on the trainer, and much of her running was done on a treadmill.

“Somehow we managed to do more volume than I ever have for an Ironman,” she says. “We limited the bike time to two or three hours, so some days we’d do double rides.”

Of course, when you’re working with Brett Sutton, renowned as one of the toughest coaches on the planet, it comes as no surprise that some of those workouts would be hard. Really hard. Which is not good news for the women who will line up against Crowley this weekend.

“I’ve heard these rumours of these awful bikes and I’ve been subjected to a few of them,” Crowley says. “I think it’s going to create something new with my bike and I’m excited about it for Sunday.”

Despite the injuries, she managed to log 100 to 110 km of running every week, too.

“The volume is all there and the work’s been done,” she says. “That gives me great confidence leading into Sunday.”

Triathlon Magazine editor Kevin Mackinnon interviews Sarah Crowley. Photo: Dale Travers

Based on that training regimen, no wonder she feels confident. But why on earth would the race in Cairns be so important?

“I could have done another race,” Crowley says. “It was my first professional win – 70.3 Cairns in 2012, so I’ve almost made it back here every year. I’ve won the regional championship in the Ironman twice. It was my first Ironman win as well.”

“For me a lot of my friends and family come to the race,” she continues. “My training community from Brisbane and some of the clubs I’ve met around Australia as well are at this race. For me it’s probably the only the chance I have to do what I do in my home country. It’s also best for me to not go traveling too soon – it gives me a focus for the six months I have in Australia.”

Crowley also appreciates the similarities between the race in Cairns and the Ironman World Championship in Kona.

“It’s a hot race and it challenges you on the run,” she says. “Some of the days have been really hot here.”

All of which make racing here tomorrow “the right choice for me,” Crowley says.

All of which is good news for us, of course. We’re not sure how she made it to the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship Cairns, but we’re looking forward to watching her race.