Victory at World Triathlon Para Cup Alhandra earlier this month continued a whirlwind few months for Mel Nicholls, who only took part in her first paratriathlon event in May this year.
Nicholls will be back on the start line this weekend at Europe Triathlon Para Cup Bari having already represented Great Britain at a home World Triathlon Para Series event and won World Triathlon Para Cup gold since her first race in Llanelli only four months ago.
“This one was really, really special,” Nicholls said after securing the women’s PTWC victory in Alhandra. “To get on the podium would have been great, and I knew there was a chance of that, but I didn’t expect to take the gold.
“It’s only my third triathlon, and at the beginning of the year this wasn’t even on my mind, so to be doing this now is really pleasing and exciting ahead of what is hopefully more to come. It was certainly a little bit of relief as I crossed the line, but I was just so happy, I didn’t want to let anyone down and that was most important to me.
“It’s been a while since I have travelled with a team to compete, but it felt like home. The team were fantastic, the staff were just brilliant, they were so supportive. The whole team were fantastic at giving me tips, getting me ready for the race. They were all so involved in the performance out there. The confidence they gave me, helping me to relax and enjoy it. The whole team environment and camaraderie was unbelievable.”
The week of the race in Portugal also marked another significant milestone – 10 years since she first represented ParalympicsGB at London 2012, qualifying for the final of the T34 200m, a feat she would repeat four years later in the 800m in Rio de Janeiro.
Ten years on from London, the two-time Paralympian never expected to still be representing GB especially not in swim, bike, run, having also competed internationally in hand-cycling.
“I remember thinking after London maybe I can get to Rio and that was about as far as I thought,” Nicholls said. “Certainly, over the last couple of years, I did not expect to be coming into a different sport and competing again for GB.
“I joined Tewkesbury Triathlon Club at the end of 2019 purely because I was swimming a little bit as cross training because it was good for my body, good for my brain and I wanted to be a better swimmer and also for the social side. I had no inclination or ambition other than just training with people and then it’s gone from there.
“I had thought about doing a triathlon last year and at the start of the year I started looking for events, but they were more just open events. Our club run an annual triathlon so that was going to be my first focus and where I was going to start. But then I saw the Super Series and how it was open to unclassified athletes, which I was at the time, so I signed-up and if I have got a focus, I’m 100 per cent committed to achieving that.”
After combining swim, bike, run for the first time at the British Triathlon Paratri Super Series race in Llanelli, less than three months later Nicholls was lining up on a World Triathlon Para Series start line, finishing fourth at Volvo 2022 WTPS Swansea, only 21 seconds off a podium place.
“It was absolutely incredible, but I felt the enormity of it as well, but that was mainly because I put pressure on myself,” Nicholls said when reflecting on her Swansea experience. “The GB team were fantastic, they said there was no pressure, just go out and enjoy it which I wanted to, but I do put a lot of pressure on myself being the athlete that I am.
“It was such a huge step up it felt for me from my first one. There was a lot of the best athletes in the world that I was racing against, and I really didn’t want to mess up or let anyone down. I had friends there which was fantastic, and the crowds were amazing, the support was incredible.
“It was an amazing event, and it went much better than I expected it would. To finish that close was such a surprise. I just wanted to get round and finish because it was all about the experience, so to be that close was amazing.”
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