Llanelli will always hold a special place in Mel Nicholls’ heart. The paratriathlete from Worcester stormed to silver at the British Triathlon Super Series race in Wales this weekend, almost one year to the day since she took part in her maiden race.
A seasoned wheelchair racer, with two Paralympic Games already under her belt, Nicholls made her debut in Llanelli last year and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down.
And with a second-place finish and personal best this time round, Nicholls is enjoying being back at the elite level in a new and challenging sport.
"Last year I went into Llanelli knowing that it was my first ever triathlon, so my plans were very different,” she said.
"I looked at it as a one-off because I had no idea about triathlon whatsoever and no targets other than just going out and enjoying it.
"So, to come back a year later and do Llanelli again, it did feel slightly different.
"This time my goal was to test out things I had done over winter but equally, to go in and have fun again.
"I was the only female athlete this year so I was racing [alongside] the men, but I quite liked that. Because if the challenge is harder, then you can push yourself more.
"It was about challenging myself to see what position I can be and where I could shave off those seconds or minutes to catch up to first.
"I've really enjoyed being in that elite environment again and I didn't realise how much I missed it until I came back.
"It's such a wonderful environment and can get the best out of you.”
Nicholls was a wheelchair racer at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympics but left the elite pathway to pursue her interests in ultra-handcycling.
Part of her local triathlon club for fitness, the 2015 world silver medallist decided to try her hand at her first paratriathlon event last year and excelled.
Nicholls is now eyeing up an unexpected third Paralympic Games in the Paris, with this the upcoming European Paratriathlon Championships a key race for her.
"We've got Europeans coming up soon," she said.
"I'm a lot more excited now that I've had a good result from my first race and I'm feeling a lot more ready for it.
"I feel a lot of pressure, from myself more than anything as you never want to mess it up. But I just have to go out there, do what I can do and hopefully come back with another good result.
"Paris 2024 is only next year and that's what it's all about. Hopefully that will be the pinnacle.
"Having obviously been to two Games and moving away from the track after Rio, it’s not that I had closed the door on another Games, but equally I hadn't got plans to.
"I kind of always thought that if the pathway was there or if the scenario arose and I wouldn't say no to going back into the world class environment and another Games.
"But I certainly didn't expect it to be paratriathlon at all.
"So, if I get the chance to go to another Games, in my favourite city and in a sport that just found me, it would be pretty magical to be honest."
Nicholls will return to South Wales on 15 July to compete at World Triathlon Para Series Swansea.
The city hosted a World Triathlon Para Series race for the first time in 2022, with this year’s edition taking place within the qualification window for the Paris Games.
As well as the elite racing, the event will also host participation opportunities and follow on from Llanelli with a leg of the British Paratri Super Series.