New book highlights endurance athletes’ tough life choices

Press Release – University of Canterbury

New book highlights endurance athletes’ tough life choices
The question mark hanging on the title of world-class triathlete and coach John Hellemans’ memoir Never, Ever Give Up?represents his growing awareness of the tough life choices endurance sports athletes have to make.

John Hellemans running in Rotorua. Credit: David Beeche.

John Hellemans running in Rotorua. Credit: David Beeche.

Dr Hellemans emigrated from Holland to New Zealand in 1978, where he has combined his career in general practice and sports medicine with competing and coaching in triathlon for nearly 40 years. The memoir, published by Canterbury University Press, recounts his adventures as a young doctor in Blenheim and tells how he was captivated by the relatively new sport of triathlon while watching a TV broadcast of the 1979 Les Mills NZ Ironman Championship in Auckland. He went on to win six national titles and represented New Zealand at several world championship events and the 1990 Commonwealth Games. As an amateur he has won eight age-group world championship titles.

Dr Hellemans reveals the highs and lows of his triathlon experiences, initially as a successful competitor, and subsequently as a coach, sports medicine doctor and advisor for some of New Zealand’s best performing triathletes, including Erin Baker, Kris Gemmell and Andrea Hewitt.

“Each year there was something new in triathlons relating to training techniques, race options, equipment or rule changes. I loved the dynamic development of this novel sport, it kept me interested,” he says.

As his sporting career progressed and he juggled it with his family and medical practice commitments, he started to realise the significant personal cost that triathlon can have.

“It’s a very addictive thing. From a sports medicine perspective it can be too much, and it can be harmful – socially, in regards to your relationships with friends and family, as well as physically.”

In October 2013, at the age of 60, Dr Hellemans made the decision to compete in the Hawaiian Iron Man, long considered the ultimate test in triathlon where in excruciating heat, he found himself staggering and miserable and still not giving up.

“Life used to be about surviving and meeting basic needs. For many of us the modern Western life is too cushioned, so we challenge ourselves to suffer in other ways. Endurance sport strips you bare and you are confronted with yourself. That is part of the attraction. But at a certain point it’s about realising this suffering may not be good for me.”

An exercise-induced cardiac event in 2015 brought the message home to him and made him question his motivation and the drive to never give up. However, he confesses wryly that he will find himself lining up for the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final on the Gold Coast in September. The question mark is still hanging.

Never, Ever Give Up? by John Hellemans, published by Canterbury University Press, August 2018, RRP $39.99, 978-1-98-850305-9

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