Luke Bell – A New Direction

Luke Bell is one of the most successful Australian triathletes and recently decided to join Melbourne based coaching group, TriVelo to pass on his knowledge and experience, and to help others achieve their goals. We caught up with TriVelo founder, 1989 Ironman Australia Champion Gerard Donnelly and Luke Bell to talk about their coaching venture together.

Australian Triathlete (AT): Hi Luke, thanks for chatting with us. It is an exciting time for you personally and professionally. You and wife Lucy have just welcomed your second daughter, Harriett, a little sister to Matilda. And you’ve made the leap into coaching – it’s all happening! How do juggle it all?
Luke Bell (LB): Thanks, it is exciting. It has been great to see Matilda grow in all aspects over the past three years, from a baby into a little girl with a bubbly happy caring personality. Now, add in Harriet, born in early January – life is good. It is not really a matter of juggling things; it is more about just getting stuff done. We are not the first people to balance kids with work and we will not be the last. It’s called having a family and living … and I am sure if you chat to anyone, although it can be a little crazy at times you would not change it for the world.

AT: Let’s talk about the jump into coaching land – you’ve joined forces with TriVelo Coaching group. First up, why the move into coaching?
LB: I have always enjoyed working with people, and kids for that matter – helping them enjoy the sport and to understand what it can do for one’s health in all aspects, both physically and mentally. Before becoming a professional triathlete, I got my degree at RMIT University in Bch.App.Science-Physical Education. It was a fantastic four-year course with a balance of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics with the added bonus of teaching. So, in short, I guess I have always enjoyed “teaching” people and helping them become better.

AT: Has it been something you’ve been keen to do for a while or has it taken some encouragement?
LB: It is not something I initially looked at, rather something that has more or less evolved. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with and under some great, world-renowned coaches and companies. This isn’t limited to only triathlon – I have always been interested in what other athletes of different sports do, to see if I can somehow use or integrate that into my own training to become better. This has provided me with a lot of knowledge over the years. I have always been willing to share my knowledge and what I have learned with others but it was not until recently that the opportunity arose to join Gerard and TriVelo.

AT: Why TriVelo? Tell us about Gerard and what made you choose to work with him and his group instead of going out on your own?
LB: Gerard is a fantastic person and has a true passion – he cares about his athletes, which I initially noticed. His knowledge both through experience in and out of the sport is amazing (his CV is very impressive also!). Gerard is also always learning, which I also liked. No coach, or anyone for that matter, knows everything, but as long as you’re willing to keep learning and evolving then I think that is a positive.The coach/athlete relationship is just that, a relationship. It has to be a two-way learning experience as no athlete is ever the same. Gerard also understands life and is on the same wave to what I believe. I have always been a believer that family comes first, then work, then you see what time is left in your life to balance in “sport” if that is your passion.

AT: It’s not always the case that great athletes make great coaches or have that teaching/mentoring side to their personality. How are you finding the transition from athlete to teacher?
LB: This is not totally new to me (with my studies in teaching) and you’re are absolutely correct that not all athletes make great coaches. I have always believed that while I was in the thick of my career I could not coach. Being an athlete is a selfish task; it is just the way you have to be. I did not believe that coaching and racing at the very top level are possible, as in the end at times you will not give your athletes the time and dedication they deserve from a coach.

In saying that, coaching and mentoring are also something I have done a little with at certain times of the year. For nine years I helped out with the VSSSA (Victorian Secondary School Sports Association) Victorian State Triathlon team, taking the team away to the Australian All Schools Championships and mentoring them. I have always said that if I could help one junior have the experiences I have had through triathlon then I have been successful. I am now racing some of the juniors I used to watch compete. A couple to note include, Sam Appleton and Jake Birtwhistle – I watched them develop and come through the school’s triathlon program. That is both a good and a bad thing if you understand what I mean!

AT: You are one of the most successful Aussie triathletes to race our great sport, what is next for Luke Bell the athlete?
LB: I would say what is next for Luke Bell. I have never liked to define myself as ‘Luke Bell the athlete’. Being an athlete does not entitle you to being a good person. I have always tried to be myself, along with being a good person. Currently, I am still racing and being involved with events and promoting the sport of triathlon. I am very content with what I have achieved, results wise in the sport (no need to give the CV pitch). After 17 years, I am still able to race professionally – with my knobby knees – that is a win in itself! This year I am having one go at trying to go sub-eight hours [in an iron distance event], which I have never tried before; I guess sort of a bucket list thing. I have always raced races to win and never raced for time.

I hope with TriVelo we can help people achieve their goals in the sport, whatever they may be. Our sport is a fantastic one and, as I said, being involved in triathlon can help other aspects of life. Dedication, persistence, focus, enjoyment, social, physical and metal positives; problem solving, balance but most of all it is just a great fun, healthy, positive environment to be a part of.

I still have a passion, also, for working with kids so it would be great to use my degree and get involved with a school program, here in Melbourne. Kids are just honest, which I like. They don’t care about what you have done, just if you are a good, fun person. I also have a passion for getting kids involved in sport and life-long activity as such. By getting kids enjoying and having fun (keywords – enjoying and fun) in physical activity from a young age it dramatically increases the chances of them carrying that healthy lifestyle through life! I will always be active that’s for sure.

AT: Gerard Donnelly, you are the founder and head coach of TriVelo Coaching, but also a very accomplished triathlete – The Ironman Australian Champion in 1988, second in 1989, a Commonwealth Games Team member for Auckland 1990 and also the Australian Duathlon Champion in 1989 – wow! Triathlon has been a big part of your life. Tell us how you first got involved in triathlon?
Gerard Donnelly (GD): Yes, looking back I have been very fortunate to have a career in triathlon. A career-ending knee injury in 1979, at the age of 20, while playing football was the catalyst for my triathlon career. My surgeon said my sporting days were finished but that riding a bike would definitely help with the rehab.

Working as a Physical Education teacher in the ‘80s enabled me to train with the school swimming, running and cross-country squads. The students seemed to enjoy the fact that not only was I was setting the programs but I was doing the sessions with them.

I had heard about this crazy event in Hawaii that involved three events – swim, ride, and run – over ridiculous lengths and that there would be one held in Melbourne. It was the Nautilus Triathlon in 1981 (I think), an event that went from Frankston to the City Square in Melbourne. I competed on a borrowed bike. My performance was average at best, and it showed me where my weakness was – the bike – but from the experience of that race, I was hooked.

Unfortunately, there were very few events on the calendar from 1981-1983. In 1984, more races appeared including the Australian Long Course titles in Frankston and the Australian Endurathon in Geelong. There were so many triathletes that were so much better than I was – Greg Stewart, Nick Croft, Tim Bentley, The Doyle twins, Stephen Foster, Brad Bevan, Rod Cedaro, Greg Brown and the list goes on. I spent most of 1984 and 1985 trying to improve every aspect of my training and racing, and slowly started to make it into the top 10 in a few races, but well behind the leaders.

My passion to improve motivated me to train at the next level. Using the successful coaching experiences I had with my students along with my exercise physiology background I started to improve my results quickly. My desire was to compete at the highest level, so I decided to test myself and entered the World Long Course Championships in Kailua Hawaii, where I finished fourth behind one of the legends of the sport, Scott Molina. This was a turning point for me – it’s when I realised that I was now ready to compete at an elite level. I resigned from my position as a teacher and spent the next four years chasing my dreams as a full-time triathlete.

AT: As we mentioned above, you were crowned the Ironman Australia champion in 1988 and second the following year. At a time where there were only a handful of Ironman events globally, this was huge. Some of our younger readers (myself included) were too young to know or remember what the triathlon industry was like in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so tell us what it was like back then to be an Ironman Champion and one of the best athletes in the country and world.
GD: In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was an elite group of US triathletes called the ‘Big 4’ – Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Tinley, and Scott Molina. From 1982-1993 one of these four guys won every Kona race until Greg Welch won in 1994.

Australia had its own share of successful Ironman competitors including Greg Stewart, who finished third at Kona in 1987, Tony Sattler top 10 and Greg Welch, who eventually became the first of many Aussies to win the holy grail of triathlon. It was a great period to be racing but at the same time also a very tough time to be racing against such a dominant group of triathletes. When I turned pro in 1987, I had set myself some very specific goals. If I could achieve all or any of these I would be a happy man:

  1. Win the Australian Ironman title
  2. Be the first Aussie to podium at Kona
  3. Represent my country at the Olympic/Commonwealth Games or World Championships if the sport of triathlon ever made it to that level.
  4. Remain self-sufficient in the sport through sponsorship and prize money for as long as I had the desire to compete.

It was an easy decision to end my career in 1990, having ticked off many of what seemed unachievable goals at the time.

AT: You’re a teacher by trade, so teaching/coaching is obviously something you’re very passionate about and some might say in your blood. When did you first realise you liked helping others – teaching and guiding them towards their goals? How long have you been doing tri-coaching?
GD: From very early on in my career (1970 aged 9-12) I had a running coach; Geoff Watt (yes, Olympic Gold Medalist Kathy Watts father) who instilled the idea that with consistent, persistent, structured training programs amazing results could be achieved. He was ahead of his time and our running group dominated state and national titles. This gave me the grounding and understanding that setting a goal and working towards it with a methodical approach really worked. I implemented the same theory in my teaching with the school teams in the ‘80s that I coached and the success was a mirror image of what Geoff had taught me.

The successes I achieved personally enabled me to help other triathletes achieve similar improvements that I experienced. I started coaching a small group of triathletes in 1988 and amazingly I now coach one of those athletes today. The Triathlon Coaching School was developing (an initiative of two enthusiastic, fantastic operators, Oscar Carlson and Phil Beddlington) and they gave me the opportunity to take it to the local Victorian schools. We also ran weekend coaching clinics around Melbourne, which were very successful. This was groundbreaking stuff and triathlon was quickly becoming the buzz sport.

AT: Can you tell us a bit about who/what TriVelo is all about, what you offer and how do athletes get on board?
GD: At TriVelo Coaching we aim to give every athlete that we coach the tools, structure and processes that will enable them to reach their personal best. The coaches are passionate about improving every athlete that comes under their guidance; this includes educating and motivating each athlete to take ownership of their own unique goals. From elite level to everyday age groupers, our goal is to help you reach your personal best.

The easiest way to join the TriVelo Coaching group is to apply through the web page contact section – trivelocoaching.com.au/contact/.

AT: How did the relationship with Luke Bell come about, have you guys known each other long? Why did you want Luke working with you?
GD: Luke and I have been apart of the Giant Family for over 10 years and I have followed his career with great interest. He lets his results do the talking. He has a very relaxed, likeable character. He has a humbleness and modesty regarding his achievements as a Professional Triathlete. He is just as competitive as the next pro, and his inner drive should never be underestimated. This seemingly hidden competitiveness has enabled him to be very successful over the last 18 years, winning both the US and Australian titles.

Luke has a great ability to communicate and his background in teaching gives him all the right attributes to be as successful at coaching as he is in competing. We are very excited to have Luke on board the TriVelo Coaching Team.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aimee Johnsen

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