This month’s RockStar is Elana Withnall. She’s a superstar on the track and field representing Australia in Heptathlon. In 2013 and 2014 she won back to back gold medals at the Oceania Championships, as well as being selected to be the Australian team captain. Nowadays Elana has added another sport to her resume – Rugby 7s.
What’s your favourite colour RockTape and why?
I’m forever aspiring to colour coordinate my RockTape to my outfits or the colour I’m representing – so it’s always changing, but at the moment it’s definitely ‘’pink lightning,’’ because it representing femininity and strength (Plus I love pink!).
Heptathlon seems to be the event for those who can’t decide which track and field event is their favourite. How did you originally get into the sport?
This will be my nineteenth competitive track and field season. I was a little A’s Kids, proudly representing Old Bar Little Athletics club as I grew up on the beautiful NSW, Mid North Coast. This was such a wonderful introduction into the sport, laying the foundation to ultimately developing the passion I have for Athletics now. Little A’s encourages kids to competitive in multiple events, and fortunately I happened to be good a lot of them. As I improved I got a personal coach and continued to compete across multiple events, my favourite being 400m, 100m hurdles, 200m hurdles (now 400m hurdles), 200m, long jump, high jump, triple jump. I had some success at a national level in the 400m, triple jump and high jump individually. When I was fifteen I was old enough to compete in my first heptathlon at a state championship, and fortunately won a medal there – setting up the passion for what would be my chosen event(s).
What are the events in the Heptathlon? Do you have a favourite?
The heptathlon comprises of seven different track and field events. Day 1 includes: 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m. Day 2 consists of long jump, javelin and the 800m. The hurdles have always been both a favourite and a strength, as well as the 800m because of my speed-endurance based 400m background.
What would we find in your training or competition bag? Anything interesting?
RockTape: first and foremost of course! If I am training for a heptathlon – multiple shoes for that discipline e.g.) sprint spikes, long jump spikes, high jump spikes, throwing shoes. Hydrolyte: An electrolyte supplement without sugar. I have to ensure I stay hydrated, especially if I am training multiple session/ day and multiple events. Foam roller/trigger point ball, thero-bands – to release any sore spots before training or racing and activate key muscle groups. My training diary – where I record sessions, times and goals. And my special little ‘’Old Bar Beach,’ key ring, that travels with me worldwide on my spike bag, to remind me of where I started.
How do you balance your training and physique to meet the demands of very different events? For instance, the sprint events of the 100m hurdles and the 200 meters, versus the 800m distance event? Or the leanness required for running, versus the power needed for shotput?
I have a very good and experienced coach in Mike Hurst, who plans and controls my training loads for different periods in the season or for different cycles. I am very speed-endurance dominant, because of my background in the 400m and ability to withstand repetitions of high quality work, repeated. Mike is very good at ensuring my fatigue is controlled on those high-volume days, to make sure I can handle what I am demanding of my body’s energy system. On the primarily speed focused days, he will mix that with a lifting session in the gym. This complements the similar fast twitch muscle fibres used when sprinting. Throwing is about speed and power, so most of my focus – especially now while training for Rugby 7s too, revolves around those training principles.
You’re now playing Rugby 7s, which after its inclusion in the Olympics has really taken off. What do you love most about the game that’s different to track and field?
I am so excited for what Rugby 7s has done for women’s sports in Australia, especially after their phenomenal success in Rio! It has created a pathway for many other up and coming women’s sports like AFL and Rugby League. I love that Rugby demands both speed and skill, as well as team-work. You could be the fastest on that field, but you have to know how to catch and pass efficiently, while on the run as well as reading the game and almost predict what your opposition’s next move may be. It’s different to track in a sense you are not running your own race – you have a team backing you and relying on you and I’ve missed that element of comradery in an individual sport.
What’s your typical training week like?
No week is set in stone, because I have to take into account other factors like my full-time work schedule and university studies as well as competition schedule and rugby tournaments. But typically, I will be on the track up to 5 days/week. Some days will be 1-3 sessions, depending if I am training for multiple events or not. I am in the gym lifting 2-3 sessions/week. I am on the footy field 2-3 sessions/week.
What sporting goals are on the horizon for you?
My goal has always been to represent Australia at the Olympic Games. I now don’t mind whether that may be in Athletics or Rugby 7s, but I will certainly keep aspiring as long as my body will let me. On a short-term scale, I am training toward making next year’s Commonwealth Games, for both sporting ventures.
In your blog you’ve spoken candidly about body image and the impact of the pressure from social media to appear perfect. What are the key messages you try and impart to younger athletes who might be struggling with some of these issues?
Social media is a fantastic tool and has done great thinks for sport, but it can also have very negative effects. I think it’s very sad is has had particularly, a negative effect on self-esteem and body confidence, especially in younger people. Due to the convenience and accessibility of social media, we can now see into the lives of celebrities and public figures with a click of a button, but this too is fabricated because there’s more to life than what’s inside an ‘Instagram square’, and even celebrities would not be willing to share those imperfections. I think a way to combat comparing yourself to an unrealistic computerised image, of what the media deems as the aspirational, or idealistic way to look or live. We must learn to celebrate our uniqueness, including our flaws, to not fall into this trap. It is also important to stop yourself from comparing the way you look, or your life, to someone else. Everyone’s journey is going to be completely different and different experiences, both good and bad have led you to that point. I try to be mindful of being simply being grateful for the skin I’m in and the body I’ve worked hard for. Remember to celebrate how far you’ve come and not where you wish you were.
Most of our RockStars are well travelled for their competitions overseas, but you seem to have a little extra wanderlust. Describe your favourite destination and why it’s special to you.
I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to some incredible places, both for competitions and for leisure. My favourites so far, would have to have been a toss-up between Canada – while I was briefly a part of the Australian Winter Olympic Bobsled team and travelled to Calgary for a training camp and much to other countries’ teams surprise – experienced snow for the first time! The other destination would be Cambodia, where I travelled with my university to a remote town in Phnom Penh to teach PD/H/PE to impoverished school children as a way of healing. This was incredibly rewarding, but also an extremely good way to immerse yourself in the culture of the country, learn the language and learn about the history from a local’s perspective.
Where can we find out more about your story and journey?