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Interview with athlete: Joanne Norman

Our patient Joanne Norman shared with us a glimpse into her world!

Here are some positive insights during these difficult times. We will find a new normal and we will keep moving!

We have been treating and witnessing the incredible amount of hard work she puts into her sports. Her story is an inspiration to our team and we’re sure it will also be inspirational to you.

Learn about her training, her rehabilitation and physiotherapy journey as well as what inspires and drives Joanne to perform and exceed!

How did you get started doing triathlons?

“I come from a competitive swimming and waterpolo background. I’ve always trained, raced and competed at a high level. There was a period of 10 years where sport was pretty much non existent in my life – pregnancy, going back to full time work and raising 4 young children made way for a pretty hectic life. I played water polo in Sydney with minimal commitment to training and realized how much I missed not having some form of sport in my life. When we returned to the UAE in 2016, my friend (and coach) Leyla asked me if I would swim for a relay team she was putting together for the Dubai 70.3. I had done a few sprint tri’s in my 20’s and thought “why not.” Due to the weather the swim distance was cut to about 400 meters with a long run (on the beach) up to the bike transition….I wasn’t run fit and the swim was over before it had really started! I thought it was hilarious that all of the athletes were in wetsuits – I wore my waterpolo cossies and stood out like a sore thumb…coming from the east coast of Australia, the water is always freezing so the water in Dubai didn’t feel any different!

After the relay, Leyla convinced me that I could do a half ironman individually, so I signed up to race Bahrain in December 2016- I gave myself 10 months to work on the bike and the run and to put it all together. I have to say Leyla didn’t have to work very hard to convince me to sign up. I was pretty eager to get back into some disciplined training and being back here in Abu Dhabi with help at home gave me a little bit of freedom to commit to the challenge.

What inspired you to train to swim the channel?

Swimming the English Channel is my birthday gift to myself! I know it sounds crazy but this is a very personal challenge and a celebration of being the best version of myself over 50 years. I had been thinking about what I wanted to do for my 50th for a few years – I wanted to celebrate by doing something a little different and had thought about all kinds of things including getting to base camp at Mt Everest! Two summers ago, we were on holiday in the UK and France and stayed in Dover on the way back. We went for dinner at the White Horse Hotel which is the hotel that everyone who has swum the English Channel writes their name, date and time on the wall/ ceiling/ doorframes (wherever there is space) cementing themselves as being a Channel crosser. We were seated next to a wall that had various names written on it. One relay group stood out in particular – it was the names of 3 guys I had played water polo with from Perth (plus one of the guy’s girlfriends) detailing their crossing date and time. My husband Stu knew that at that moment, I would be swimming the Channel. Maybe it was a sign, who knows, but I knew this was what I wanted to do. I then thought about putting together a relay team (and I knew I would have plenty of ladies from the Tribelles who would put their hand up) but decided in the end that I wanted to do this as a solo crossing. It took me another 4 months before I committed – I needed time to think about the commitment I was making and also that my family were going to be onboard with this as I needed their support to make this happen.

I also have a large support base here in the UAE and around the world from where I draw inspiration to train. The ladies who make up Tribelles UAE provide me with all sorts of inspiration and my close friends and family are kicking all kinds of goals around the world. There are times when I am tired and struggling to hit the high notes in my session – it's here that I like to think about someone else’s story - how they achieved their goal; I imagine what they have done, the process they followed and focus on that. Distraction is a wonderful thing when you are swimming and I find that when I think about another’s success, that pushes me to find an extra gear. I know that when I am swimming the Channel for 10 hours or more, I will be drawing on everyone’s stories!

Can you describe to us your current training schedule?

I am currently swimming 24km’s a week – 3 swim sessions and 1 long endurance open water session. I also play netball with the Capital Netball League and am a member of the Intergulf Senior Team which will play in the Intergulf Tournament early March. I commit to a minimum of 2 strength sessions (which sometimes turn into stretching and rolling sessions) and if I’m feeling full of beans I may throw in an easy run. With the focus on one sport, I wanted to keep playing netball as this allows me to cross train and also play a team sport (meaning I can chat!). Swimming is a very lonely sport and as I am short on time when I train, there is no room for social chatting between swim sets.

What rehab/physiotherapy have you done, in particular, any proactive work in order to try and keep injury-free? This could include manual therapy and any specific exercises you’ve found useful.

About 4/5 weeks out from Bahrain in 2016, I hurt my hamstring – this was really my first ever sports injury. Amy was my savior and got me to the start line. During this time I learnt a very valuable lesson – strength sessions should never be missed. In my mind, I was strong – I had a strong body and therefore my muscles were strong – big mistake. Subsequently I’ve now learnt that my strength sessions are the first ones done and the last ones to be missed! After Bahrain, I worked with Donna Howarth (on Amy’s recommendation) for soft tissue release and worked on glute and core strength as this was an area of weakness for me.

Then about 5 weeks out from racing the Triclub championships (Tribelles UAE had qualified) in Barcelona in 2018, I came off my tri bike in Hatta and sustained some serious damage to the right side of my body which took the brunt of my fall. Incredibly lucky to have not broken any bones, it has taken almost 2 years to get myself right again. I couldn’t do much in the first instance so it was baby steps. Lots of physio working on mobility. I walked short distances and I did doggy paddle very slowly and kicked with a snorkel in the pool as that was all I was capable of! Very slowly I worked my way back to racing – shorter local races (I haven’t raced a half Ironman since Chattanooga in 2017). I discussed swimming the channel with Amy and knew that I needed to continue working with her on my shoulder through treatment and exercises. Amy set my progressive shoulder rehab exercises to help increase mobility and work on those areas that were weak after my accident. I have progressively gotten stronger – testament to incorporating these exercises into my strength routine, rehab physio with Amy and massages on a regular basis. I still have niggles, which is normal given the amount of swimming I do, but I also make sure to take care of my body – I place it under a lot of stress, so having regular check ups at Perfect Balance, massages and also self care (stretching and rolling) helps to keep my body going and doing what I need it to do – swim lots of km’s!

A big part of the work of our physiotherapists is to believe and support the small and big dream of our patients. We are present through hard times, injury and also when celebrating progress and success. Our heart goes out to Joanne as we are sure she will keep active during this isolation period!

Wishing you all an active and happy life!