Ironwoman Belinda Brooks

3.8km swim. 180.2km bike. 42.2km run. That is the daunting task of completing an Ironman boiled down to the cold, hard distances. And the latest athlete to tame the beast more commonly known as the Ironman? Local, out sportswoman, Belinda Brooks.

Belinda Brooks made the crossover to triathlons after competing for the Australian water polo team as a reserve at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and then as a squad member at Athens in 2004.

‘I finished Athens and I had a couple of years to do whatever and I thought triathlon would be a good sport, something different to keep my fitness,’ says Belinda.

As it turns out, triathlons have proven more than just a tool to keep fit in the off-season. In 2007, her second season competing as a triathlete, Brooks was named WA Triathlete of the Year. Then, in 2008, she made the jump from shorter distance triathlons to the biggest of them all – the Ironman.

On December 7, Brooks finished twelfth overall and 2nd in her age group (30-34) at her first ever Ironman in Busselton, crossing the finish line in just 9 hours and 58 minutes and beating her own target time by over 30 minutes. Brooks’ stellar race was made more impressive with the news that her finish at Busselton would qualify her to compete at the World Championship Ironman in Hawaii on October 10, 2009. Each year, at 22 different qualifiers, 60,000 athletes attempt to make Hawaii, but Brooks is one of only 1800 who earn the chance to swim, spin and stride for the line.

Busselton was a tight and hard-fought race, however. Brooks entered the last lap of the run in fifth place for her age group. Buoyed by a couple dozen friends and families cheering her on, she passed three competitors on her way to a qualifying time.

While Brooks admits she had a terrific race day in Busselton, even finishing ahead of quite a few pros, it was more than beginner’s luck that qualified her for one of the world’s most elite distance events. As the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And Brooks has shown an ability to go harder and farther than the rest of the field in her toughest races. In fact, the Ironwoman told OUTinPerth the only time she failed to complete a race, it was her body not her mind that gave out.

‘The one time that I didn’t complete an event was because I collapsed, so I have never mentally given up. In 2007, down at Karri Valley (Pemberton), I collapsed about 50m from the finish line. I got a bit of pain in my side near my kidney through the ride and the run and I thought I could just get through it. I went down a hill and fell and just couldn’t get up… I had to be carried across the line.’

Brooks is, perhaps, all the more noteworthy because she is part of the rare and almost always elusive group known as openly gay elite athletes. Yet for all the media surrounding Matthew Mitcham (and the speculation surrounding certain swimmers and footy players), Brooks said the coming out process was a smooth one for her.

‘When I made the Australian team with water polo I did keep it quite quiet, but now things are very open and accepted… As soon as I came out everyone was really supportive, accepting. I’m very lucky,’ says Brooks. ‘When you keep it quiet, I suppose you are always concerned about what people think of you. That was hard to juggle and I suppose it affects your confidence a little bit. As soon as you come out and don’t really care what people think then your confidence boosts that little bit more.’

So, what’s next for this Ironwoman? After a few weeks off to recover from Busselton, Belinda has already jumped back into training and set her sights on a multi-day mountain bike race up Table Mountain in March with training partner Todd Israel. Following that, Belinda will compete in national league water polo, the Anaconda adventure race series and a selection of triathlons as she prepares to see just how fast she can go in Hawaii.