Stephen Houghton's story wowed a lot of people last summer. A few years ago the Taranaki father was not in a good way. He weighed 151kg and had a number of health issues. He decided he needed to do something about the predicament he was in, so he had a crack at triathlon. Houghton dropped 67kg and next month he is off to the ITU World Age Group Championships in Cozumel, Mexico.
Cozumel will be his second World Championships as he attended the event in Chicago last year. Houghton feels he has had a very good preparation for the event and he has been able to stick with his training plan right throughout the winter.
"I have done a lot of training indoors on the wind trainer and I got a running machine for home, so I had no excuses not to be able to train and blame the weather. I learnt a lot from last year when I came off the Sovereign Tri Series and didn't take a break. This time around I had a better break and let the body recover and then I got back into it."
Houghton has added a bit of a game changer to his training regime this year.
"I have built Pilates into my training, as well as regular sports massages. I feel great. The way I feel now compared to last year is just such a massive difference and I put that down to sports massage and doing the Pilates. I do it at a local club and the benefits have been huge."
He is not going into the World Championships with huge expectations of winning his 45-49 Age Group, because he said he knows he won't win. But he and his coach have worked out a few goals that they would like to achieve.
"It's important that I focus on my own race and making sure I do the processes of each event well. I'm pretty excited about Cozumel being my first ever non-wetsuit swim. My training in the pool has been structured so much around that factor. I would love to get out there and get a personal best in my swim without a wetsuit and I feel like I am more than capable of that because I have improved so much. It would also be great if I could finish in the top 50 this year. I was in the 80's last year and considering where I have come from, if I could say I am in the top 50 for my age group in the world, that would be a huge achievement."
Conditions in Cozumel will be tough, with temperatures in the 30's and humidity set to be up around 80%. Houghton has been working hard on his hydration and he will be trying to keep his core temperature down throughout the race.
His wife Carla will be heading along with him again, but Houghton said she's disappointed her favourite triathlete Javier Gomez won't be there. Their kids won't be able to make it though, as they will be busy competing in their own sport. Their son will be playing in a rugby tournament in Taupo, while their daughter is off to the Australian State Nationals with the New Zealand Indoor Volleyball team.
This upcoming summer, Houghton will be a Sovereign Tri Series Ambassador and he hopes his story can continue to motivate people to get active and give triathlon a go.
Houghton is currently working with a lady who is aiming to take part in Tri Tinman this year. She has a huge fear of swimming in open water because of something that happened to her at a younger age. But he is working to get her across the line, and he has promised her that if she does Tri Tinman, he will do his first half Ironman.
"This is the sort of stuff I love and it keeps me going. When I am out on that run course and I see people coming from or going through what I went through, I always make an effort to give them some encouragement and I get a huge kick out of that. I just tell people to believe in themselves. All people from all walks of life are capable of doing a triathlon and they don't have to be a star, it's all about giving it a go and feeling the sense of achievement when they finish."
The Sovereign Tri Series is back for 2016/17 and it all kicks off at Tinman in Mount Maunganui on Sunday 20 November. It's all about giving triathlon a go and having fun. There are four different categories to enter: Give it a Go, Grow and Compete, become a National Champion, or win a Series Championship - this season will ensure participants have fun on the pathway to their goal.