Stumbling across triathlon over lockdown after some coaxing from friends, geography teacher Michael Salisbury from Newcastle quickly found success on the world paratriathlon stage.
In only two years, Salisbury secured two international medals and successfully defended his title of British PTS5 champion. Still a relative newcomer to the sport, it’s a promising debut for the 36-year-old, but it wasn’t a straightforward road to the podium.
After spending his first few years juggling training with a full-time job, Salisbury’s now part of British Triathlon’s National Lottery Funded World Class Programme. With the extra support and guidance, he’s got big ambitions for the upcoming season, first on the list being the British Paraduathlon Championships in April.
“I got into triathlon quite late,” Salisbury said. “I started running first and did a few things like the Great North Run, because you have to when you live in Newcastle. I found triathlon because friends from university started doing it, so I had my arm twisted into doing a few with them, and it just grew from there.
“It was quite a steep learning curve in terms of getting to know a new sport and trying to put it all together into a race. There were issues with pool access over lockdown, so I hadn’t actually done a huge amount of swimming before the first triathlon competition I did. I found myself drowning quite a bit in races. I’ve started to sort that out now.”
On getting to grips with his swimming, Salisbury says: “I’m really grateful for the help I got from coach Becky [Hewitt]. It’s amazing how much someone can help from having a look at you, and going: ‘how about you try breathing to the right instead of the left?’ That was quite a transformative moment for my swimming.”
Still being a relative newcomer to the sport, Salisbury finds inspiration from his fellow teammates: “I spoke to Finley Jakes at one of the first events I did and I found out that he couldn’t swim when he turned up at his first talent ID session. In the races we’d done, I was amazed at how quick he was. It was quite inspiring to see someone come into the sport not being able to swim at all, and seeing how far they’ve come.”
Entering his first race in 2020, Salisbury quickly shot up the ranks to become British PTS5 Paratriathlon Champion in the space of a year, a title which he would successfully go on to defend.
Reflecting on becoming the current British Champion, Salisbury says: “The week before, I’d raced in Montreal, and I was really quite disappointed with how the race went. I had Covid not that long before and thought I was better, but I just didn’t have it on race day. Coming back, I felt like I had a point to prove. That fire meant that I managed to put a good race together, which was a confidence boost.”
Salisbury’s no stranger to having to adapt under pressure. In 2022, he won his first international medal at the Europe Para Triathlon Championships in Olsztyn, after the race was unexpectedly reduced to a duathlon.
“I think I was about the only person who was really happy with the last-minute change in format,” Salisbury says. “At the time, I would have said that swimming was my weakest event, so I knew that there was an opportunity there. It was just a case of trying to keep my head and do what I knew I could on the day, without making any silly mistakes.”
Later that year came Salisbury’s best international finish in the form of silver at the World Triathlon Para Cup in Alhandra, but it wasn’t without its trials: “Alhandra was a good experience because the swim was really difficult. There was quite a lot of uncertainty over the conditions, and I felt I coped with that quite well. It was in a tidal estuary and the tide was coming in, so we were swimming against the current. I was second out of the water. That was probably my best swim I’d ever done.”
Asked if he felt confident coming into the Paraduathlon Championships on 2 April, Salisbury was upbeat: “Definitely, I wouldn’t say that duathlon is now a real strength as it was last year. My swimming has come on, now I’m a bit more concerned about my bike. It’s a super sprint, so I’ll leave everything out there and see how hard I can go.
“That being said, the competition at the paraduathlon champs is going to be really quite intense this year, there’s some really strong athletes coming up. Ollie Scott’s going to be racing and he’s really quick on his run, he’s an exciting athlete to watch for the future. Tom Barnard’s been doing really well, particularly in the bike and running. He won the Para Series last year in Sunderland. We’ve got a good bit of competition going on, it should be a good race.”
This year, Salisbury’s been selected for the World Class Programme for the first time, which will help support him as he juggles remote training and streamlining his two careers.
“I’m a geography teacher in a secondary school for kids aged from 11-18. I also currently work in the sixth form team as head of year 12 and assistant head. I really enjoy that pastoral side of my work, but it’s getting a bit difficult to balance that with training, so I’ll be stepping back and just doing teaching part-time next year. That’ll give a little bit more space, flexibility, and time to do things that you should also be doing, like rest for example.”
Looking forwards to the 2023 race season, Salisbury said: “I’m hoping to do Yokohama in May. I’m quite excited about getting to race in Japan alongside the Olympic side race. Then, it’ll be the European Championships in Madrid in June and Swansea in July. Hopefully the Paris test event if I get a start in that and the World Championships in September. I’ll be doing the British National Championships as well.”
“In general, the chance to go to all these different places and race in cities around the world is just a fantastic experience for me as a geography teacher. The racing’s great, but it’s the whole package of meeting people from all around the world and understanding where they come from, what life’s like for them, and how they’ve got into racing.”
Find out which athletes are part of the 2023 National Lottery Funded World Class Programme by reading the article here.
Interested in getting involved in paratriathlon? Visit our get involved page to find out more here including the opportunities available.