Debbie

GOLDEN GIRL

BY DAVID ROBSON // PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRENDON O’HAGAN, DAVID ROBSON & MIKE BAKER

As one of New Zealand’s hottest endurance athletes, Auckland’s Debbie Tanner is as accustomed to running, cycling and swimming the murderously long distances needed to dominate the field in elite level triathlon as most of us are to puffing our way through a one hour cardio session. Her results—2006 ITU World Cup champion and Commonwealth Games competitor, 2007 NZ Sprint National Championships overall winner, 2008 Beijing Olympics representative and first place at the 2009 Oceania Cup, to name but a few career highlights—reflect her innately competitive nature and willingness to apply 100% effort to transmuting her intensive training sessions into the hardware of success. Pure and simple: she lives and breathes triathlon.

If you are expecting a rags-to-riches story of “underdog does good” then you will not find it here. For Debbie, 28, is blessed with that rare combination of unmistakable talent, tremendous work ethic and a winner’s mindset. When these factors are combined the results can be spectacular. When, as in Debbie’s case, they are applied to the pursuit of sporting glory, the athlete who uses them to full advantage inevitably builds upon their success year after year. With her sights set firmly on being the best at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, Debbie is drawing on her athletic gifts more than ever and with recent career-best training performances she is edging ever closer to achieving her ultimate dream.

“The Olympics is ahead of every other sporting event in the world so to have that as your pinnacle event and to compete with high distinction in that is the ultimate,” she says. “Triathlon is pretty brutal so there is a lot of pressure on us athletes to make sure that we get everything right. And being a typical athlete I want the best success rate I can possibly get because you always want to compete well for your country.”

Known for her determination and drive, for having ideal body type for her chosen sport and for being equally skilled in all three triathlon events (swimming, running and cycling), Debbie appears genetically programmed for athletic success. What many of her admirers don’t know is that her natural gifts have been consolidated into international success through over twenty years of sporting experience and sheer hard slog.

While most seven year olds are content to play with their friends and watch TV, Debbie had at that age already discovered her athletic abilities and routinely ran, swam and cycled competitively. Accepting the opportunity to combine all three disciplines she entered her first triathlon at age eight, and won. Since then she has not taken her eyes off beating her personal best performances as she has steadily become one of the world’s best.

“It’s just about being able to push myself,” she says. “It is about pushing my body in order to see what I can get out of it. Being in triathlon, there is a limited timeframe, like any sport, and being a professional you have to make every moment count.” A full-time athlete, Debbie, as good looking as she is spectacularly fit and strong, is used to maximising her time; currently training four hours a day, seven days a week, she has used her Olympic Games mission to drive her forwards.
Her biggest strength may come as no surprise: “I think it really is my consistency. I love to train every day and do what I need to do to succeed on a regular basis.” Racing on the international scene since age 19, Debbie discovered she had true elite level talent when she qualified for the 2005 Commonwealth Games two years later.

She is now considered one of New Zealand’s best chances for Olympic gold. “Because I was involved in sport at such a young age it was the only real pathway that I saw,” she says. “It was my biggest dream to compete at the highest level.” Subjecting oneself to the rigours of daily training is not easy at the best of times, but when training for the highest of sporting honours? “It can be hard,” says Debbie. “People often feel you can just go out there and train but there is so much to do with the mental side in getting through the training and then psychologically dealing with how you are going to approach races and what to expect.”

On top of mentally and physically preparing herself for all training and competitive eventualities, Debbie must constantly monitor her body composition to ensure optimal performance at all times. An elite triathlete must be strong and muscular enough to last the distance and have power to the finish, yet be sufficiently lean to encourage speed of motion and lightness of foot. This is a delicate balance that Debbie—powerfully built, yet as lean as can be—has evidently mastered.

At her young age, Debbie Tanner is sure to continue her sporting evolution, her disciplined mindset underpinning the success she expects she will attain. “To me, competition success is something you just need to continually work on,” she says. “I’m definitely living my dream and have the most amazing job. So I have to remind myself of this every day when times are tough, and really keep pushing. In realising that the goal is out there and it is achievable, I just have to keep knocking on those doors every day to get there.” For Debbie, knocking on doors ultimately means knocking off the competition come race time. M&F