FROM near-death to qualifying to represent Australia – Tamworth triathlete Judy Johnstone’s comeback has reached another incredible level.
Mrs Johnstone, 73, has qualified for the International Triathlon Union World Championships in September, after she completed the Luke Harrop Memorial Gold Coast Triathlon on Sunday.
The amazing achievement comes just six months after she suffered several broken bones and a brain injury in a collision with a B-double truck while on a ride.
“I made it,” Mrs Johnstone said simply after her race.
The triathlon was run as a duathlon – run, ride, run – after heavy rain affected the water quality of the swim course.
Mrs Johnstone ran the sprint distance, completing the first 2.5km run in 15:37, the 20km bike ride in 54:51 and the 5km run in 38:54.
And it wasn’t without doubts and fears about her safety and the conditions.
“When I first got there, it was pouring rain – it was torrential, and I thought, ‘What am I doing here? This is ridiculous’,” she said.
“The actual day was as hot as you could get, with the sun out and everything.”
Mrs Johnstone’s son Greg, an experienced triathlete, had been permitted to go alongside as her guide.
They focused on keeping her cool by pouring water on her as often as possible.
“Without Greg I wouldn’t have had a hope; he’s a marvellous son,” Mrs Johnstone said.
“He was behind me on the bike, calling out, ‘Have a drink, Mum. Have a date, Mum’.
“He kept me going. He was at me the whole way because he didn’t want me to overheat.
“With the brain injury, you can’t let your core temperature get too hot – and it was a hot day; there were people who didn’t make it, it was that hot.
“I’ve been doing my training indoors because of our heatwave here, but I couldn’t do it indoors there – I had to get going.
“There was that much effort put into me to get me here, I just gave it my best – and it was good enough to qualify for this [world] event.”
Mr Johnstone said he was “very proud” of his mother.
He said many people had helped her get to the starting line – intensive care nurses and doctors, rehabilitation ward staff, the brain injury team, physiotherapists, massage therapists.
When it came to race day, though, “ultimately it was Mum and her determination and clever racing,” he said.
“She didn’t over-push,” he said.
“The thing about triathlon is it’s three legs and requires you to be smart as well as determined.
“You’ve got to push hard but not so hard that you blow up ...
“One of my friends was pulled off the course because she was delirious, it was so hot.”
Mr Johnstone said he’d felt “the burden of responsibility, naturally”.
“There’s a huge duty of care to your 73-year-old mum who has suffered such severe injuries, but I had belief in her that as long as we were steady and she didn’t overheat, especially, that she’d be OK.”
Mrs Johnstone’s coach has told her that before she begins training for the worlds, she must now rest completely – until Wednesday.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.