Daniela Bleymehl: A Winning Comeback to Ironman Racing
A two-year break from racing is a long time in professional triathlon. One that she’s drawn incredible mental strength from, culminating in a sensational win at Ironman South Africa – proving that you don’t need to sacrifice your family life to achieve success in top-level sport.
Victory in her first major race for 2 years. Daniela Bleymehl’s return to big-time triathlon at Ironman South Africa simply could not have gone better. After her extended hiatus – first for the pandemic, and then to have her second child – the Canyon athlete produced a sensational performance to record the 5th long-distance victory of her career. The 33-year-old rode an aggressive bike leg on her Canyon Speedmax CFR to stamp her authority on the field and open up a gap that she maintained all the way to the line.
“Words can’t describe what this win means to me,” posted Daniela on her Instagram after the win. And that’s more than understandable. With the victory, Bleymehl secured qualification for the World Championship race in Hawaii in October. What’s more, the win marked a triumphant end to her two-year break from racing – beginning with the pandemic in 2020 and extending with her pregnancy and the birth of her second child, Alicia, in summer 2021.
It was a perfect time to welcome a new baby into the familyDaniela Bleymehl - Mother & pro triathlete
All things considered you could say that the pandemic was perfect timing. Because the racing calendar was almost empty, she could afford to take a step back from competition without losing too much ground to her competitors. But for female professional athletes, finding the right time to have a child is never easy – and more often than not, it’s a topic that usually arises at around the peak of their career.
“Nevertheless, it was a perfect time to welcome a new baby into the family” says Daniela in hindsight. “As a mother, we were dealing with a lot of other things at that time too, like home schooling my older son. The timing ended up working out for us – we could take time to focus on other things aside from just training and competition.”
Triathlon during pregnancy
Daniela also kept fit during her pregnancy, with a modified training philosophy based around dropping intensity, decreasing volume, and learning to listen to her body more closely. “There's no reason to not exercise during pregnancy, or to let the bike sit there gathering dust” explains Daniela: “On the contrary: endurance sports in particular help you stay heathy during pregnancy. It's not about athletic ambitions, beating times, or basing everything around strict schedules – simply that you, your body, and your baby are doing well.”
For Daniela, the whole process was an incredible experience. And a chance to send the message to other women that it’s possible to juggle family life, pregnancy, training, and your career – that achieving both sporting success and family life may be a challenge, but they are no way mutually exclusive. However, it does take good time management, plenty planning, and support from others – for Daniela, that came from her own parents and parents-in-law.
Whether it's covid, unexpected interruptions to training, or a race that doesn't go the way you planned – as a mother, wife, and professional triathlete, sometimes unexpected things happen in life that turn your usual daily routine on its head.
But it’s precisely these things that push Daniela even harder: “You always have to make the best of situations. For example, with Corona, I started just viewing it as another challenge – one that everyone has to overcome, so everyone has equal opportunity. In 2020 it got me down, but in the meanwhile it’s all giving me positive energy and steeling my will to just get everything done. It’s exactly the same lesson you learn when you have children.”
One goal: vying for victory in Hawaii
And Daniela called upon all that mental fortitude as she got underway with her big comeback – culminating her sensational performance at Ironman South Africa. The win in Port Elisabeth has given her an extra dose of motivation and self-belief in the run up to the World Championship race on Big Island in October. And she’s already shown she’s got all the attributes to compete at the sharp end on triathlon’s biggest stage, with her 9th position finish at Ironman Hawaii in 2019.
At the same time, after her long break, she also knows that the race in Kona represents a unique challenge that demands a unique skillset. But if the events of recent years have shown anything, it’s that she’s someone who thrives on challenges, and who can use them to keep getting better and better. And she’s approaching the next chapter of her career with all the vim, vigour, and ambition you’d expect: “I would like to make it into the top 10 or top 5 in Hawaii again”, says Bleymehl with a sense of intent.