Thursday, 22 March 2012

3701HUM Assessment Piece 2 – Feature Profile: Ryan Cook

Finding the balance between university life, social time and a sporting hobby is normally a tough ask for anyone living in today’s rat race. If you thought a 9-5 slog was bad, try balancing study for a Bachelor of Commerce degree, a part time job as an accountant, and a career as a three time world champion all together on a Monday morning.

Elizabeth Pluimers does all of that. From the surf, to an air compression chamber used to speed up recovery, followed by office air conditioning at Baker Affleck Moffrey Accounting firm, Pluimers probably accomplishes more in an average morning before you’ve even turned on the toaster.

”It’s really tough trying to train and compete at the same time” says Pluimers, Queensland’s hometown Ironwoman. “Study normally gets booted out the back door”.

True to Australian spirit, Pluimers makes good use of the old sporting cliché “great champions always find a way to win”. Earlier in February Pluimers dominated the final race of the Kelloggs Nutri-Grain series to capture her second competition title, a trophy that sits alongside her three world championships.

Pluimers grabbed the trophy on the shores of Noosa, although the outcome was never guaranteed  heading into the final race weekend.

After copping a smashing at Victoria’s Portsea beach in round four – a race that involved a ski pile up and an abnormally low tide – Pluimers’ confidence was placed up for question after coming so close to the crown in 2011, but once again she silenced naysayers by letting her Northcliffe spirit do the talking.

“I was shattered after Portsea, and felt out of contention heading in” says Pluimers, nearly a month on. “There were four races to go, so I just gave it my best and it all worked out”.

That “best” wasn’t just any minor effort, though. Overcoming an 11th place ranking at Portsea was challenging enough, not to mention going head on against fellow Northcliffe surf club teammate Kristyl Smith, in a matter of Gold Coast bragging rights.

“Kristyl and I are quite good friends, we’ve trained together before, but when you put your foot on the line it’s always about winning” says Pluimers laughing.

That winning competitive gene seems to have been instilled in Pluimers’ blood from birth, even though the apple falls far from the tree in this case. Her father Henry Pluimers is perhaps the total opposite of his daughter athletically, although Liz’s natural love for the water can be accredited to her dad every step of the way.

“When we moved to the Gold Coast from Warwick, we thought it was important that all of our kids learned how to swim in the surf, and once they’d done that they could give it up” says Henry, never expecting Liz to become one of Australia’s best board paddlers. “Liz loved the surf and wanted to keep on going with it”.

While Pluimers’ dad may share the same excitement for the sport that his daughter has loved since moving to Northcliffe surf club at the age of 17, he may not share the same joy for the toll that surf lifesaving has taken on his wallet in the past years.

The average cost of a surf ski is $2000, $1250 for a brand new paddleboard, followed by accommodation, fuel and board repairs after each individual race. That adds up to a lot more than just a pair of soccer boots and a mouth guard at the start of the year.

“Getting sponsorship is very important” says Mr. Pluimers, “When you go to carnivals you have to pay for accommodation, and every year you need new equipment”.

Luckily for Pluimers, at least at the professional level, sponsorship hasn’t been hard to come by. Already at the early age of 24, Pluimers is sponsored by Dolphin Surf Craft, Performance Paddles and TYR – all of which provide her with equipment.

Pluimers is also fortunate to work closely with BodyScience, a company which helps her after a big race weekend, when recovery is priority number one.

“I work quite a lot with BodyScience, and air compression chambers. But recovery is definitely a big part of the sport” says Pluimers.

For most athletes involved in professional lifesaving, the physical toll has been beaten into them from years of early training and competition at a young age. Growing up on the beach is a must, and a respect for the ocean is the first lesson taught.

“Most kids start out as a junior nipper, learn how to handle big surf, and then go from there” said Northcliffe Surf Club representatives. “It’s either a lifestyle they choose to adapt to early, or grow out of come their teenage years”.

After securing her second Ironwoman title in Australia, Pluimers’ work doesn’t stop for an offseason straight away. Earlier in March she competed in Queensland’s State Championships at Kurrawa, where she earned Northcliffe six gold medals and came first in the single ski, board relay, taplin and mixed double ski events.

Afterwards, Pluimers wrote on her blog the following: “After competing as an individual all season in the Ironwoman Series, racing in teams is certainly something I love doing and look forward to at the end of a long season. We have some amazing girls at BMD Northcliffe and to make an ‘A Team’ is very tough”.
The rest of the family now relaxes, and prepares for Liz’s title defence next season.

“It is all for her” says Mr. Pluimers. “We’re all proud of her. When she competed at Noosa recently family came from New South Wales to watch her compete, and one relative drove from Dysart, about a seven hour drive to see her”.

While most of Queensland’s beaches coughed up a rather flat summer of waves for surfers, Pluimers conquered the season’s best and worst to make up for a disappointing 2011 campaign.

Now it’s back to balancing work, school and a career like the rest of us.

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