Rotorua's Lewis Ryan had big plans for 2019 and beyond as he looked to make his mark overseas in a series of Xterra off-road triathlons. He spoke to sports reporter David Beck about how a serious injury proved even the best-laid plans can go awry.
In April last year, Rotorua 20-year-old Lewis Ryan seemingly had the world at his feet.
The year prior he had raced in his first overseas Xterra event, Xterra Taiwan, and produced the perfect debut, finishing first.
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He returned to Taiwan for the Xterra Asia-Pacific Championship at the beginning of 2019 and finished sixth in a highly competitive field. He followed that up with fourth at Xterra Rotorua before setting his sights further afield.
With plans to race at Xterra France, Switzerland and Czech Republic, Ryan told the Rotorua Daily Post at the time, "I'm super motivated for it, my excitement levels are through the roof."
Unfortunately, things did not go to plan for the rising star.
"I got injured," Ryan said.
"I had a pretty gnarly IT band [thigh and knee] injury so I didn't make it to any of those races. That put me out of action for quite a few months. It was pretty tough, it was super disappointing. I spent a lot of time over summer and the early part of 2019 preparing for all the racing.
"I spent a lot of hours and put a lot of effort in out there so it is really gutting when you pick up an injury."
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Although a tough experience, he said the injury was a good learning curve.
"At the end of the day, in some ways, the injury was my own fault for not looking after myself properly. I probably picked up a bigger running load than I could handle at the time so I can't be too gutted about it because it's not like it's a freak thing.
"It is definitely a big learning curve - tough not to be able to go and test myself against the best though."
At just 21 years old and with what he hopes will be a long career ahead of him, Ryan is well aware there is no need to rush back into action.
"I'm on the mend now, I'm back training lightly and just building up again, fingers crossed it's one of those injuries you can come back stronger from.
"I've probably had six months out of the sport now, starting with the injury and taking the opportunity to chase some new adventures and opportunities in other areas.
"In that time, the passion for racing has only got stronger. I definitely needed that sort of refresher because you naturally have those doubts - it had been an injury I'd mucked around with for awhile and I needed to step back."
He is determined to be sensible about his comeback.
"Now, I'm more determined than ever to perform well, that's the mental side of it and I think I've fixed that which was super important. The hard part now is I have to keep reminding myself that I've been away for quite awhile so I can't expect to jump back in at the same level I was at.
"I kind of have to learn how to do everything all over again. Obviously, I hope it doesn't take too long. It's going to be a tough few months building up that level of fitness and speed you need - at the moment I just need to get back to being able to swim eight hours a week, things like that, just slowly building up again.
"The big one is learning to run properly because my run form has caused me a few injuries. I started by running two or three kilometres and I've just been adding since then. Picking up an injury was kind of necessary to realise how important that running form is, I'm really conscious of it now because I don't want to deal with that again."
While he is going to play 2020 by ear, depending on how quickly he comes back from the injury, he has his sights set on a few competitive outings.
"There are some events I'd love to target, depending where I am, but it would be a bit foolish to seriously target a race and say I'm going to do that, then force myself to try to be ready too early. Obviously, Xterra Rotorua in April is at the back of my mind as an event I'd like to perform well at and that kind of marks the start of the season.
"The mental desire to race at the highest level again became super strong through taking time out of the sport. I just have to trust it will happen," Ryan said.