Non Stanford: 'You lose your sense of identity and purpose'

By Tom BrownBBC Sport Wales
Non Stanford
Non Stanford was the 2013 ITU Triathlon World Champion

It has been exactly six months since Non Stanford left the "luxurious prison cell" that greeted her arrival in Australia.

The 2013 world triathlon champion and her fiancé, Aaron Royle, had to spend two weeks quarantined in a government-organised hotel room after flying in from the United Kingdom right at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

Since then life has been far less restricted, as low transmission rates of Covid-19 allow people in Queensland to return to some sort of normality.

But the pandemic has left the sport of triathlon "completely turned up on its head" and Stanford fears it could be months before she will race again.

"It's been quite weird and quite difficult," the 31-year-old tells BBC Sport Wales. "You kind of lose your sense of identity and purpose.

"I won't be racing for the rest of 2020 now but I'm working towards racing in 2021. I'm planning the season will go ahead as normal but I'm ready for any inevitable changes."

As well as the coronavirus outbreak, Stanford has had to contend with a serious knee injury. She had surgery to remove damaged cartilage last November and "a little bit of a hiccup" over the summer meant she is only now building up her running again.

However, the Olympic Games being postponed to next summer may open a door she thought closed.

"This year was going to be super tough for me to make the [British Olympic] team, coming back from a knee injury," Stanford admits.

"There's just no room for weakness in the British team. You have to be on top of your game at all times to even be considered for selection.

"I guess this has bought me another year to get over my injuries without rushing things or without feeling under pressure.

"Saying that, the team is so hard to make so my focus next year is going to be on performing well on the World Series and who knows where that leads?"

Non Stanford of Great Britain wins the ITU World Triathlon Elite women sprint distance during the Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon on July 06, 2019
Non Stanford ended a three-year drought by winning the Hamburg ITU World Triathlon Elite women sprint race in July 2019

'They were scared I wouldn't continue'

Stanford finished an agonising fourth at Rio 2016 - just metres behind team-mate and housemate Vicky Holland.

Since then every season has been injury-affected.

A switch to renowned triathlon coach Joel Filliol's international training group in 2019 seemed to have helped her turn a corner. She won her first World Series race for three years in Hamburg that summer.

But a knee injury serious enough to require surgery last autumn had those close to Stanford fearing the worst for her career.

"I think a lot of people were really scared that when I got this most recent injury it would make my mind up that I wasn't going to continue," Stanford explains. "But I never really felt like that.

"Last year proved to me that I still had the potential to compete at the highest level and win World Series races and compete with the best in the world. I think that was really important for me personally.

"The injury I got at the end of the year wasn't overtraining or doing things wrong - it was just an unfortunate incident. That gives me hope that I can cope with the training load that's required to be the best in the world."

The seven seasons since her world title in 2013 have seen more than a fair share of disappointment for Stanford, but they have left behind a resilience and determination.

Even a season of injury rehab and a global pandemic have only served to make Stanford more committed to achieving future success.

"It's made me appreciate what I have a lot more," says Stanford. "You suddenly realise how lucky you are.

"I can't wait to get back out there and race again next year, and almost get a sense of purpose again.

"It's not a super-easy lifestyle and there are tough times, but every job or career has ups and downs.

"It's also got a shelf life. I think I've really come to terms with that and appreciate that. I just want to make the most of the last couple of years that my body can keep producing results for.

"My ultimate goal right now is going to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. Birmingham is where I started triathlon, so it feels it would be full circle to go there and represent Wales and hopefully have a successful Games in 2022."

Right now even 2021 feels a long way away.

Despite Stanford enjoying more freedom in her day-to-day life in Queensland, international travel is still very difficult. She has no idea when she will be back home in the UK.

But when normality and races return - whatever they look like - the Welshwoman has never been more determined to make the most of it.

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