Interview By: Adam Kelsall
Sorry about the long digression (is that even a word?) into the story behind this story, but GIANT Australia are all class. Jess Douglas smashed the world for 24hours on her MTB in Italy recently. To celebrate Giant (her main sponsor) threw down a tidy little function at the dark end of chapel street with friends, family other athletes who are mates with Jess and a couple of people who have been inspired by her cancer battle…the gig reflected Jess – small, classy and fun.
I had the pleasure of meeting Stef Hanson at digressionary (again…is that a word?) gig. Stef is the brains and passion behind Witsup.com, a website, twitter and Facebook presence aimed at increasing women’s engagement in triathlon. Stef moves quickly…in fact I am pretty sure “still” is not a feature of her existence. I was eager to ask her for an interview about Witsup for this blog but a very short convo got interrupted by some damn fine salt and pepper calamari, she had somewhere else to be and in a flash she was Gonski. Anyhoo, Stef it turns out, is super approachable and was enthusiastic in her response to a later interview request. Here it is…Tell us about Stef Hanson
Adz – Nicknames?
Adz – The Smile?
Stef: The product of a life full of awesomeness! Or is it that my friends and I just did something stupid, and can’t stop smiling about it?
Adz: The Triathlete? How and Why did you get into it?
Stef: I’m from a team sport background, and NEVER thought I’d be involved in an ‘individual’ sport. But I guess that’s part of the beauty of this sport. It’s the most social, team oriented sport, without actually being a team sport. Anywho. I moved to Melbourne, you know, ‘the big smoke’, from Tassie 10 years ago, and I had my heart set on making the Australian Softball Team. The second game I played in Melbourne I bent over to pick up a ball, and couldn’t stand up! It turns out I had caused three disc bulges, and my body was one grumpy unit. I never returned to softball, because it took so long to get the back sorted. Throughout all the rehab though, I started swimming and riding. It was one day when I was chatting to my physio, whilst he was inflicting pain, that he mentioned the Noosa Tri.
Triathlons sounded just about crazy enough for me… It took me a lot of back relapses, physio, osteo, acupuncture, other forms of needles, and even an epidural before I could put together some consistent training. I think I’m just short of being a witch doctor. After a few failed attempts, and a lot of wasted entry fees paid up, I finally got to the line at the Noosa Tri in 2007… Awesome! Just freakin amazing that race! I’m going back there for a play this year for the first time since. Why I decided to then move up to Ironman? Well… If you’ve seen the Hawaiian Ironman footage, you’d get it. I love how ridiculous Ironman racing it is. I love freaking people out by telling them what we do.
Adz: Peak Triathlon Experience?
Stef: I’d say learning how much I could push my body in my first Ironman – Busselton 2009 – was my peak performance, but not in a results kind of way. It was insanely hot and I completely cooked myself out there. Almost literally from the inside out – I ended up with sun stroke. I was practically passed out at about 24kms into the marathon. My speech was slurred, my hands and face were tingly, and no one could understand what I was saying. The first aiders wanted to take me off the course, but my best mate was there saying, “just give her time. She will NOT be happy if I let you pull her from the course.” Apparently, I was swearing at them to leave me alone, but I have no recollection of that moment, I was in a bad way. However, I found out how much your mind can control your body. After several attempts I managed to get up and even jog the last 7kms. I didn’t know how dangerous it was at the time to continue in those conditions, and that was probably a good thing. So it was a disappointing race, but, I learnt a lot!
Stef: I want to go to Kona. It’s as simple as that. I want to race age group at the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships. One day I’d like to go pro, but let’s not get too carried away too soon. I want to see the world by racing at different events. Overall goal is to have everything that I do all work in unison. I’ve worked hard on finding what I want to do, and now I’ve found it, I just need to make it work for me. Triathlon to me is a lifestyle as well as the competition of racing.
Adz: The Personal trainer?
Stef: My back injury really was a huge changing point in my life. I had moved to Melbourne with no idea of what I really wanted other than to play softball. I had a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a major in marketing. So I planned on pursuing that career. I ended up HATING IT! I was not cut out for the office. So when I did my back, I wanted to learn more about my body and how to look after it. So I studied the PT course. Who knew you could earn a living helping people to be fit and healthy? I was convinced I wanted to help people the rest of my life in a personal training career. However, after doing that for almost 9 years now, that passion has started to decline. I’m at a stage where I’m more motivated to help those who want to achieve goals, and unfortunately, a lot of personal training clients – the bread and butter – just want to tick off a couple of sessions per week. That’s all well and good to train those so that you can pay the bills, but, I want more than that. I still do it, but I’m moving more in to the area of coaching as opposed to just personal training. Don’t get me wrong. I loved it, and it’s helped me move more into what I want to do. So in that respect, it’s been awesome, but I won’t be doing it for years to come.
Stef: Put me on a TT (Time Trial Bike) and I’m happy. Seriously, it unleashes this overwhelming desire to just go fast. I love it! I’m fortunate enough to be sponsored by Giant, and the latest Trinity SL0 is just stealthness personified. It’s matte black, has zipp 808s and Shimano Dura Ace Di2 – electronic gears. It’s the bat mobile come Robocop, and you can’t help but go fast.
Adz: The Human
Stef: I guess outside of everything that I do triathlon related – my website, commentating, training, racing, coaching etc – I really just love being with my mates. The beauty of really good mates is that you can chill out on a couch, wearing your trakkies and watching the latest episode of true blood and feel completely comfortable that you haven’t washed your hair for a week. But, those same mates you can go out for a drink with and party til stupid o’clock in the morning. In saying that, I do really enjoy meeting new people. I love being invited someplace where I don’t know anyone. The deep end is a fun place to be.
Other interests would most definitely revolve around food and drink. I live in Melbourne – I’m a huge fan of trying different restaurants and cafes. Although, I have to say, my boyfriend is a chef, so it’s like eating at a restaurant every night of the week. But, I’m pretty sure the reason my friends come over for dinner is for my witty repertoire, not the food.
Last thing – I just like stuff. The more adrenalin that’s involved in stuff, the better. I’m no good at relaxing.
Adz: Who inspires you and why? Is inspiration important to you? Why?
Stef: Inspiration is important to me, yes. Absolutely. It helps me achieve what I want to achieve. You work you’re a** off for so long, and the rewards can sometimes take a while to come to fruition. Without inspiration I’m not sure I’d finish the things I start. So absolutely, it’s one of my main driving factors. It comes in so many different forms though – for example.
Triathlete Belinda Granger has been so successful for so many years, and at the age of 41 is still racing so well. But, it’s not just about the racing with her. It’s about her life choices, her outlook on life, the way she makes other people feel, her no bull attitude. Five minutes with that woman and you feel like you can conquer the world.
My friends who have kids, in particular, my best mate, who makes sacrifices and does absolutely everything she can to make sure that her daughters get everything they need. It’s just selfless.
I commentate a lot of triathlons and fun runs – those people who cross the line and give me a high five, grinning like an idiot as they look at the finish clock. That’s awesome. People who do things they never thought they could are unbelievably inspiring.
I could go on. There’s inspiration everywhere you look. Passionate people inspire me.
Adz: Tell us the story of Witsup.com?
Stef: WITSUP.com (Twitter @witsupcom) stands for Women In Triathlon, Sup?! You know, women in triathlon, what’s going on? What is up? It took me forever to figure out a name. I finally came up with WITSUP which has a little bit of my flavour to it, I am totally street – Sup?! Haha, it makes me laugh though, and people remember it easy enough.
The concept behind it is to provide a portal that boosts the profile of women in triathlon and in sport in general, lift the profile of triathlon, and help introduce more females into the sport. Like a lot of sports, females tend to take a back seat. The percentage of coverage in both print and tv media that covers females is about 5%. That’s mental! The women in our sport (and many other sports) are incredible athletes, irrespective of the fact that they have boobs, they are just damn good athletes. So I want to help change that. It’s a long road ahead, but hey, I love a good challenge.
Also, in the focus groups that we hosted, we found that a lot of women’s perceptions of triathlon was that it was for the ‘full on’ athlete – you know, train hard, race hard, be hard etc. So part of our aim is to change that perception. Absolutely, triathlon has a lot of ‘hard core’ athletes, but, it also has a lot of people who just embrace the lifestyle of being a triathlete. It can be an extremely social and fun sport. Most training sessions re based around where to have coffee at the end!
The website is only one part of the big plan. There are plenty of other projects involved, like the Celebrity race we organized earlier this year and the Scholarship Ambassador Program – we recently announced the winner.
Ambassadors: Belinda Granger, Bek Keat, Elly Franks and Emma Jackson – these women are all professional athletes at different stages of their career (check them out here – http://www.witsup.com/ambassadors). Again, they share the same philosophies as we do at witsup.com, and it’s just unreal to have them on board to help spread the word, AND, be a source of information for athletes ranging from beginners to veterans. They are on board because they believe in what I’m doing – that is one of the biggest compliments I could get. These girls are my idols!
Adz: Tell us about the Witsup Scholarship ambassador competition.
Stef: The whole idea was to provide a lucky triathlete with all the things she would need for 12months worth of triathlons in the hope that it will help give her a leg up in her career. I gathered 8 different sponsors to get on board this idea, and the generosity was incredible – it’s valued at $20,000! In return the sponsors were provided with an ambassador who would be a great representative of their brand along with our brand. Kacey Willoughby was the lucky winner of the Scholarship this year. The competition caused a positive stir amongst the triathlon/cycling community, and Kacey had to beat out a lot of VERY impressive age group athletes. I couldn’t be happier to have Kacey on board as an ambassador. She shares the same values as we do, and the next 12 months will be super exciting for all of us.
Triathlon – The Controversy
Adz: Now don’t be all beige on us here Stef. We want answers
Adz: Should the World Ironman Champs always be held in Kona?
Yes it should stay in Kona. It’s where the Ironman was born, and the history and traditions of racing there are part of why people work so hard to ‘qualify for Kona’. When I race at the Ironman World Championships, I want to race where Julie Moss put triathlon on the map with her ‘meltdown’ near the finishing line, where Paula Newby Fraser was named ‘Queen of Kona’, and where Chrissie Wellington became the 4x World Champion and broke the record… in Kona!
Adz: The Julie Moss Melt
Adz: Your thoughts on Beijing Olympics Gold Medalist Emma Snowsill not being selected for the London Olympics?
Stef: I love Snowy. I think she’s one of the greatest triathletes of all times. When she is on song, she is a phenomenon. But, unfortunately, recently due to illnesses and injuries she wasn’t producing the results. I think the right team is going to London. What I don’t like was the ups and downs that the athletes had to go through in the selection process. But, let me also say, it’s onwards and upwards. We need to forget about all of that (for now), and just get behind the amazing women that we have representing Australia.
Adz: Chrissie Wellington having a year off Triathlon?
Stef: Chrissie Wellington is just an incredible person, inside and outside of triathlon. As much as I would love to continue to see her racing, she obviously has other things that she wants to do, and needs to do. I feel like she has so much to give to society, and her success as a triathlete has been a fantastic platform for her. Whether she returns to triathlon or not, I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner for her. So much respect and admiration for her. If you talk to any of her competitors they all have amazing things to say about her – that speaks volumes.
Adz: A couple of your tweets have commented on the media attention given to Lance Armstrong’s triathlon efforts at the expense of the media profile of women competing in the same races as Lance…can you please expand on the thoughts behind these tweets for us?
Stef: Haha… Stalker! Well since then, unfortunately, Lance has been banned from racing… Which sux! Innocent until proven guilty is lost on the powers that be. With regards to my tweets, I was getting over all the attention that was focused on Lance in his 70.3 races (before he was banned). Don’t get me wrong, having Lance in our sport is greatness! It’s great for competition and his high profile brings more media attention to our sport – love it! However, I was frustrated that at the time, all other athletes seemed to be forgotten. Especially the women. From memory, that particular weekend had some of the best female athletes racing on one of the toughest courses in the world, including Natascha Badmann who at the age of 45 is still smashing it! There was next to no mention of other athletes who have been there all along. It was the equivalent of a shiny new toy at Christmas time, and ol’ faithfuls were forgotten. Uncool.
Silly questions because we can…..
Adz: The number 8 is better than the number 37 because?
Stef: Because you’ve finished higher up on the leaderboard – I’m a little competitive.
Adz: You wake up in the morning and there is a seagull sitting on the end of the bed…what happens next?
Stef: I hide the chips! Nah, I grab Henry’s lead (he’s my border collie), and head for a jog and a play on the beach because it’s summer, the doors are wide open, and we are away at a holiday house somewhere.
Adz: Once when I was rollerblading I…
Stef: left the rollerblades hire place with the idea of – blading along the secure bike paths in Hobart. I hadn’t planned on there being a steep slope from the hire place to the actual bike bath. I had no way to stop so I tried to grab telegraph pole to help slow me down. I smashed my knee and couldn’t move. I had to work at my Mum’s pub that night, but couldn’t walk. So I sat behind the bar pouring beers with my leg up on another stool and ice on it. No one was allowed to order spirits because I couldn’t reach them!
Adz: Awesome…Good luck with your dreams of age Group repping at Kona and may the profile of women in Triathlon continue to grow!! Thanks so much Stef.