Friday, 17 September 2021

From struggling swimmer to iron woman

A FEW months ago, Jo Unsworth couldn’t swim the length of a pool doing the crawl.

A FEW months ago, Jo Unsworth couldn’t swim the length of a pool doing the crawl.

Now the 18-year-old rower has just completed her first iron distance triathlon.

She took 13 hours and 42 minutes to complete the event in Zurich, which comprised a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run, in searing heat.

That placed her 1,471st out of 2,500 competitors but she was just happy to finish.

Miss Unsworth, of Reading Road, Henley, said: “A lot of people don’t finish it because it’s so long and it was 37C heat so I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do it.

“I just didn’t stop and kept plodding on because I knew if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to finish.”

Miss Unsworth, the sister of GB rower Will Satch, is a member of Henley Rowing Club who won the inaugural junior women’s quadruple sculls event at Henley Royal Regatta last year.

She took a break from rowing to try endurance events and concentrate on studying for her A levels at Shiplake College.

She began training for the triathlon in November and took part in the London Marathon in April and the Henley Swim in July.

She said: “At the beginning of the year I couldn’t properly swim a length of the pool. I could do breaststroke but wasn’t very good at front crawl, which is what everyone does in ironman.

“I kept working at it and put in a lot of effort to get the right technique.”

She competed in Zurich with Jack Thompson and Cameron Smith, fellow members of Henley Rowing Club. Miss Unsworth said: “I felt quite intimidated when we got there because everyone had really good bikes and all the best equipment.

“Their bikes were worth £6,000 and I had just borrowed a bike from a boy at school and I didn’t have the proper kit.

“But everyone’s tyres kept exploding because of the heat. That was quite worrying, as was dehydration, although there were a lot of aid stations along the way.”

She found cycling up a Swiss mountain actually helped her to keep going.

“Because the scenery there is so nice it felt less gruelling than I expected it to be,” she said.

“I knew that I had to finish so tried not to think of the pain — I just thought about all the views we were cycling through.”

Competitors who don’t complete the course in less than 16 hours are not recognised as an “ironman” so Miss Unsworth’s main goal was to achieve that.

She said: “It was a good feeling to complete it and nice to know that I’m capable of doing something other than rowing.”

“I consider winning Henley to be my biggest achievement but this was just something I wanted to try. I don’t think an ironman is as prestigious. Maybe if I got a really good time it would be but I did it in a pretty average time.”

Now Miss Unsworth is looking forward to flying to America, where she has been awarded a rowing scholarship at the University of Miami after representing Great Britain at the world rowing junior championships last summer.

“It has been a really good year since the regatta and I enjoyed competing at the world championships,” she said.

“Maybe when I’ve retired from rowing I will try another ironman, but not any time soon.”

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