Kiwi athlete Danielle McKenzie is making waves internationally. The gutsy 21-year-old is a former World Board and Line Throw Champion and has represented New Zealand twice at the Surf Lifesaving World Champs. And she has already tackled one of her ultimate goals; the Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series.
Designed to test the best Surf Ironman athletes in Australasia, the Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series involves varying race formats. Athletes battle each other, and challenging surf conditions, to find the top waterman and woman. For the past two seasons, 21-year-old New Zealander Danielle McKenzie has lined up in this iconic Australian event.
The Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series is not for the faint-hearted. So it doesn’t come as a huge surprise to learn that Danielle McKenzie decided to race the final two races of the 2015/2016 Ironwoman series with a sprained ankle.
Competing at Sydney’s North Cronulla beach in January, after some gutsy racing and despite being injured, Danielle was able to improve on her ranking and finish the season in 13th place.
As challenging as the series is, the road to compete there is equally long and arduous. For Danielle, qualifying for the Ironwoman Series began in 2014 when she competed in the trial as race preparation for the Surf Lifesaving World Championships, set to take place in France later that year.
She was successful and headed into the 2014/2015 series as the sole Kiwi representative at the event.
“My first year in the Nutri-Grain Series was full of so many new experiences and I was able to find my way as an athlete in Australia. I finished 13th overall,” says Danielle.
It also taught her that you never give up, no matter what position you are in during a race; an important lesson in sport where the result can be dramatically changed by one wave.
Last September, Danielle again competed in the trial event and qualified for the Ironwoman Series. Fellow Kiwis, Max Beattie and Cory Taylor, were also successful trialists for the 2015/2016 Ironman Series.
“My goal for the year’s series is to finish in the top 10 overall. But every race when I put my toe on the start line, my goal is to win,” says Danielle.
The Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series involve six races held over three weekends between November and January at various beaches around Australia.
Ironman racing involves four disciplines- held in various formats and order. These include swim, ski, board and run.
It can be any one of four race formats each time the athletes race- loop, m-shape, eliminator or triple sprint. For this reason, Danielle believes it is best not to stress about which you will be racing.
Having grown up surrounded by water, Danielle’s family only ever holidayed where water was involved- whether it was on a boat at Lake Taupo, or enjoying Coromandel’s Pauanui beach.
Taking part in surf lifesaving has allowed Danielle to follow in her dad’s footsteps; he also represented New Zealand at the World Championships.
A multi-discipline sport, like Surf Ironman, requires a heavy training schedule. Each week Danielle’s training involves: swimming sessions four to five mornings; ski or board sessions each afternoon from Monday to Friday; two iron sessions; two run sessions; and two strength sessions.
Danielle is a member of the Mairangi Bay Surf Lifesaving Club, where she serves and trains and each year for a few months she moves to the Gold Coast and trains with the competitive Northcliffe Surf Lifesaving Club.
This allows her surf skills to improve as she can train year-round with fellow Nutri-Grain competitors.
However, she still rates Mairangi Bay as the best place for ski training.
On top of her training commitments, Danielle studies Exercise Science and Sports Management full-time.
Despite being just 21, Danielle already has some notable achievements, having twice medaled at Triathlon’s Age Group World Championships.
Danielle’s impressive resume continues in surf lifesaving. She is part of the New Zealand Surf Lifesaving team, the Blackfins, who are current back-to-National Team World Champions. At the 2014 event held in France, Danielle took out the board race and was second in the Ironwoman.
One of her fondest memories is winning the Under 16 National ski title.
“The reason I remember this the most is that it was my first year racing at the senior nations, and I had hardly paddled the ski in waves. The surf was huge and I was pretty scared,” she says.
“I remember sneaking out just before a huge set swamped the rest of the field. I was able to pick a small wave and slew sideways a few times before finally crossing the line still miles in front.”
One of the reasons Danielle enjoys competing in surf lifesaving is because, “surf is a sport that is unpredictable, which means that everyone has a shot at winning.”
While this is true to some extent, those who prevail in the sport are the ones who have trained and mastered their craft. With her successes so far, Danielle is proving to be one them.
Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series
The Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series involve six races held over three weekends in November, December and January. This year the races took place at Queensland’s Coolum Beach, New South Wale’s Newcastle Beach and North Cronulla Beach.
There are four disciplines in Ironman racing- swim, surf ski, board and run. The order of the swim, ski and board is not set and changes with each race. The run is used to transition between other disciplines.
In the Nutri-Grain Series there are four race formats- M-shape, eliminator or triple sprint. Each time the athletes race it can any one of these formats.
The winner of the Nutri-Grain Series is the person with the most points after the six races. The 2015/2016 Ironwoman Series was won by Jordan Mercer, while “The Professor” Shannon Eckstein won the Ironman Series.