Late-bloomer chasing champs

By Kelly Exelby

Triathletes have a habit of starting young, blazing strong and burning out. School-aged stars rapidly go to seed once the withering reality of real life takes hold.
What makes Janine Sax so remarkable is that she's seen off the demands of university, established a hectic career and only then launched a full-scale tilt on the athletic world.
But what a tilt it's been. Incredibly though it seems, tomorrow the Mount Maunganui real estate agent will line up for just her 12th triathlon - in the national cup series event in Whangamata - even though she's already represented New Zealand at the sport.
You might say the sky is the limit for the late-blooming 30-year-old, who won the Surfbreaker just after Christmas, but she prefers to think even higher.
"The thing is I don't know what my limit is at this stage. I'm just going to keep pushing until I find what my potential is," Sax said.
"I wouldn't like to put a cap on it and I wouldn't like to say where the ultimate goal is either."
Sax currently lies fourth in the Contact Energy Cup national series and was 25th in her age-group at the world championships last year, an event she qualified for by doing her first Olympic distance triathlon at the nationals in March.
In fact, when Sax did her first triathlon, the Surfbreaker three years ago, she'd never swum in a swim squad and didn't even own her own bike. Instead she rode on a stationary trainer at the gym and borrowed a bike for her first race.
She entered the duathlon, but changed her mind the morning of the race and competed in the whole thing.
She hadn't indulged in anything competitive since finishing Bethlehem College and her last two years at Tauranga Girls'.
"You won't find any record of my athletic prowess at school - although I've always been sporty.

I didn't make regional rep teams or anything like that.
"In the last couple of years, I've just kind of thought 'shoot, if I don't do something now, no one will ever believe that I was sporty growing up' so I decided to do this."
Her first triathlon came about by accident - she was training for a half marathon and got roped into a team for the Tinman in 2004.
Horrible conditions meant the swim was pruned and bike was canned - but Sax was a convert.
"I didn't fully understand what a triathlon was until I saw Hamish Carter win gold at Athens but I'm so competitive and I caught the bug pretty quickly. Since then I haven't looked back."
Master swim coach Rob de Villiers built her stroke from the ground up and by the time her fourth triathlon rolled around, a sprint distance event in Taupo, she'd finished second.
The novelty was too much for her as she ran up the finishing ramp, however, as she ducked under the finishing tape thinking it was for someone important like Bevan Docherty.
She won her sixth race - an Aunt Betty's sprint event - before she hurt her foot leading into the 2005-06 season.
Then a year later she was knocked off her bike on Marine Parade and missed most of the next six months, only returning with her national championships fourth-placing.
She was second woman in the Contact Energy Cup opener in Rotorua in November, and was first age-grouper at the next event in Takapuna.
Tomorrow's race looms as a major test for Sax, who is sponsored by Baywave and Bike n Pack, with established stars like Olympic contender Nicky Samuels, series leader Katherine Anton and Kelly Bruce all competing.
"This is my first full season. Once I've completed my first full season, I'll be able to establish some clearer goals but I definitely want to finish in the top five tomorrow."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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