Paige Cardona – Ready for the challenge

Meet Paige Cardona, the lovable long course triathlete who describes herself as ‘fun, loud and annoying’. A gifted athlete she has an extensive sporting background and comes from a long line of sports people. Transitioning to triathlon, she is determined to achieve some big goals in the sport, and also in health and in life, all while inspiring others along the way. AT’s Margaret Mielczarek spoke with the age grouper to find out all about her foray into triathlon, her aspirations and more.

 

Australian Triathlete (AT): What was life like before triathlon?
Paige Cardona (PC): Football, football and more football!

AT: Tell us about your background in sport. Were you always active growing up?
PC: From the moment I was born, my dad had a football in my hands, and as soon as I could walk, he taught me how to kick it. My whole life, my parents, and brothers and sisters have always been playing sport. My dad was a marathon runner, a very good footballer and soccer player, and mum was a feisty and competitive netball player – so I’m pretty lucky I have some good genes in that respect.Growing up, I played football until I couldn’t play with the boys anymore. So, I took up soccer and I was pretty handy at that. But then basketball came along, and with my eldest brother having played NBL, I took that up and was a natural at that too.
I’m fortunate that I’ve been a natural at any sport I’ve played, and I’ve been lucky to represent Victoria across basketball, soccer and football – it’s almost a shame that I never really ‘dedicated’ myself to one sport.

AT: Who has been the biggest influence on your sporting endeavours? How has this person influenced you?
PC: Quite easily, my dad. Growing up, he’d spend hours with me playing kick-to-kick in the back yard. Mum would call us in for dinner – which would typically mean the siren has gone and it’s the last kick of the game. We had four fruit trees in the backyard, which funnily enough, looked a lot like goal posts. He’d give me one last kick to “win the grand final for Collingwood” and when I slotted it, he’d put me up on his shoulders and I’d raise my drink bottle up, celebrating as if it were the Premiership cup! He’s always taken me training sessions, to games, he’s always supported me loudly on the sidelines but he has never been a parent who tries to come in over the top of a coach. He’s always been supportive of my sports, even when I’d switch between different codes, teams and the like. He’s coming into his mid 60s now but that support is still there. We still go to the football together every week and have been for 25 years. He’s my best friend.

AT: Talk us through your foray into triathlon.
PC: I was in a pretty dark place post football. I’d left the game to pursue a potential career in recruiting in the AFL.
I had managed to wriggle my way into an AFL club and scout for them in the TAC Cup. It didn’t work out, and I felt this grievance because my whole life, I’d always been involved with football. During that time the AFLW was confirmed. I watched all my mates and former housemates go on to be drafted to AFLW clubs while I had become unfit – I was at a loss. It was a sliding doors moment that had a profound impact on me. So, I turned to doing triathlon as a means to really challenge myself. I was so overcome with emotion finishing that first mini tri (300m swim, 10km ride, 3km run) that I wanted to do it again. And, I’ve been doing it ever since!

 

Step on up: Paige’s at the 2XU Triathlon Series, race 3 in St Kilda, 2018.

 

AT: What is your greatest achievement in triathlon to date?
PC: Earlier in this year, I decided to race in the Olympic Distance (OD) triathlon in the 2XU Triathlon Series, in St. Kilda. It was my first OD race; the swim leg was cancelled so they tacked on a seven kilometre run to start – this suited me perfectly given I’ve come to enjoy long distance running.
I came away with the win in my category, which is something I never thought was possible for me in this sport.

AT: What are your triathlon goals?
PC: I realised after two seasons of sprint racing that I’m fairly rubbish at it [short distance]. My coach, Greg took me under his wing during winter to really improve my running and we both figured out in that time that I’m more of a diesel engine than petrol, and that I’d be better suited to long course. So, I’m aiming for my first half iron distance event at Challenge Melbourne, which I’m really excited for. I competed at Geelong [Ironman 70.3 Geelong] in a relay team, and I had a goal time and achieved it. I feel as though I’m ready for Challenge Melbourne.

AT: I understand you have quite a busy role at Racing Victoria as part of your day job. How do you juggle that with training and also planning a wedding? How do you maintain balance?
PC: I’m Senior Digital Coordinator at Racing Victoria, which is quite a busy role. During the spring and autumn, it’s quite long hours, which makes training six-odd times a week hard to manage. I have to ask a lot of patience of my boss, my colleagues, friends and family during this time too. I’m off the grid in terms of social outings because hitting those key sessions is really important to me and my Ironman 70.3 aspirations.

AT: Absolutely, I totally understand. In addition to that, you also have some significant health goals? You have been through an impressive weight loss journey since starting in the sport. Talk us through that.
PC: Admittedly, post-football I put on 15kgs. I remember clothes I had always worn, were tight, or didn’t fit, or were just unflattering. So, one morning I got on the scales and I was horrified at what I saw – I was 93kgs. I was embarrassed how much I’d changed since I stopped playing football. I tried a bunch of different diets; my family had also noticed I’d put on a considerable amount of weight. I signed up with Tri-Alliance and the day I started, I tipped the scales at 93kgs. I went to my first session – a brick session, including running off the bike – I couldn’t run 50metres. I cried behind my sunnies all night on Elwood beach just realising I’d hit rock bottom. But that feeling of embarrassment and disappointment drove me and I committed to the whole triathlon lifestyle. I’ve since lost 15kgs. I still have a few more kilograms to lose before I reach my goal weight but I’ve changed how I eat and I also train my backside off now! I also suffer from anxiety, so that too has been a battle in itself. I still have my days where I’m overwhelmed – a trigger for that seems to be when I do group run sessions, so I’ve had to manage and alter my run sessions in my training – I’ve learned to love this. I love doing my long runs on my own, it’s become quite empowering.

 

 

AT: Talk us through what a typical day in the life of Paige looks like.
PC: A basic day? Well, let’s go with my favourite day – Thursday. I’ll get up at approximately 4.45am, pack my cycling gear, and load my bike onto my car and head to Albert Park for ‘Hot Laps’ – approximately 35-40kms of speed and strength work on the bike. From there, it’s a quick coffee with some mates after our ride, then it’s back home where I dump my stuff, get ready for work and re-pack my bag for training later in the day. I’ll then make my way to Racing Victoria, with our offices in Flemington. I spend my day building and maintaining websites amongst other things. I’ll get to the onsite gym at lunch with some work colleagues, where I’ll just do some basic stretching and functionality work while talking to the boys about football. Then after work, I head across town to Elwood for an open water swim and an 8-12km run to finish. Then it’s home, dinner and a good nights sleep before a steady swim the following morning.

AT: It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and then end up feeling bad about ourselves if we don’t match up – I think we’ve all been there. How important is having the right mindset to achieving your goals in sport/triathlon/life? How do athletes maintain a positive mindset in this sport?
PC: When I came into this sport, all I ever did was compare myself to everyone else. It was a bit of a reality check, having been good at all the sports I’d played, to coming in and not being very good at triathlon – it was confronting. But now, mindset to me is everything. Since turning to long course, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by many experienced long course athletes, who have been generous with their time, feedback and advice. I focus on positive thinking, visualisation and rewarding myself for each milestone I reach in my build, or a PB I complete. Whether it’s a new kit or piece of equipment, I only let myself buy things if I know I’ve earned it.

AT: You’ve mentioned that you’re on a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement. Tell us more about that.
PC: A lot has changed in my life and triathlon has aided that. Triathlon tests you mentally in ways that only triathletes understand. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re capable of until you try something. For me, that came in the way of committing to be a long course athlete. My dad was a marathon runner, so surely those slow-twitch fibres are there somewhere. So, rather than wishing for them, I went out and found them!

But truthfully my journey of self-discovery and self-improvement is finding out who I am when I’m not around other people. When it comes to training, I’ve got a good group of training mates who truly know me but I don’t let enough people see that. I’ve got a habit of being a bit of a smart arse – playing pranks, having a bit too much fun when it comes to training and I really enjoy banter. So, I come off either disrespectful, offensive, or worse – people can’t or won’t take me seriously or think I’m unapproachable because of my big personality. I’d say I’m a bit of a lovable larrikin but with that, I’ve created some misleading perceptions. I think I’m a bit misunderstood in that regard. It’s my own fault for not allowing people to see who I really am. So, I’ve done a lot of independent training lately and I spend a lot of time reflecting and writing down what I’m feeling or thinking. That’s really helped me just focus. I don’t think I’ll ever lose my big personality or cheekiness but I can learn that it doesn’t always work for everyone. For me right now, life is like a semicolon; My story isn’t quite finished.

 

 

AT: Having a strong team around you is so important when trying to achieve big goals. Who makes up team Paige?
PC: First and foremost, my coach Greg has been a Godsend, both personally and with training. He demands a lot – not just in efforts but also in training standards. We don’t call him The General without reason! He’s someone who gets the best out of me. I would walk through walls for him. With every training session and race, I want to make him proud.

I’ve got some great training buddies too; particularly my close friends Jess, Janna, and Emily. We’ve experienced the highs and lows together and they make me stronger every time I train alongside them. We challenge and drive one another, and always bring out the best in each other. Those three are a big part of my life in this sport.

My family are also phenomenal, and my mates outside of triathlon are just as good – sometimes I miss a lot of social outings, I don’t have as much time to snowboard and surf, and I don’t drink anymore, which means I’m on the waters at bars, but they are always checking in and they’re pretty excited to support me at Challenge Melbourne. And then there’s my cat, Taco. He’s pretty stoked when I get home from training and all I want to do is sit on the couch. He’s good company.

AT: What’s your biggest piece of advice to other people wanting to get into the sport?
PC: You have nothing to lose. There is something so empowering about completing a triathlon, knowing that you have had to rely on yourself to swim, ride and run to that finish line – most people can’t even fathom that, let alone be brave enough to give it a go. If I can do it – someone who battled from start to finish, then anybody can do it. Running down that finishing chute is the best rush you could ever feel.

Fun Facts

One thing you can’t live without … Coffee
If not triathlon … Football
When not training … Surfing, snowboarding, playing guitar or lately – getting in every extra minute of sleep I can.
A guilty pleasure … Donuts
Bucket list race … Alpe d’Huez
Athlete you admire … Sarah Crowley – I want to be her best friend!
Person that inspires you … My Dad
Most embarrassing moment in training/racing to date … Crashing out and dislocating my shoulder attempting a flying dismount coming into T2 at Portarlington. This was at the bottom of a hill in front of a decent crowd.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margaret Mielczarek

Margaret Mielczarek is the deputy editor at Australian Triathlete Magazine and writes the web series 'Shenanigans of a Deputy 2.0'. She is a passionate age-group triathlete and four-time Ironman finisher - currently in training for Ironman number five!

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