Finish Line™ Story: Daniel Riebe
Little did Daniel Riebe know the train of events that would be set in motion as he presented wife Elaina with her finisher’s medal at the 2019 Cairns Ironman.
After years of being a bystander and self-confessed couch potato, the parade of joyful race finishers of all shapes, sizes, ages and varying levels of ability flicked a switch in the then 40-year-old.
“I’d steered away from sport as an adult,” Daniel said. “I enjoyed it during school doing rowing and hockey and a bit of soccer – but I drifted away from sport after school because I wasn’t overly co-ordinated.
“It seemed the talented people stuck with sport but there wasn’t a C or D grade team for me to go into, so I kind of just gave it up.
“I probably spent 20 years, most of our relationship really, sitting on the couch drinking beer and not really doing a whole lot while my wife was out playing soccer and touch rugby and then she decided one day she was going to get into triathlon and do an IronMan.”
Daniel says having smoked since he was 14 years old and becoming part of the drinking culture when he joined the Royal Australian Navy as a 16 year old, compounded by the tragic death of his mother almost 20 years ago, had him in a cycle of anxiety and self-doubt sometimes bordering on depression which he found difficult to break free from.
“I was a heavy weekend drinker… to me that just all seemed quite normal,” he said.
“And there was all this other stuff smouldering away in the background which I have very little control over.”
Daniel says he’d been witness to Elaina’s commitment to training and although she’d explained the race distances involved in an IronMan, “to me they were just numbers and I never really processed them”.
“After supporting Elaina in completing the 2019 Cairns IronMan, I finally understood the distances involved and the commitment she had put in. The admiration I had for her when she crossed the finish line and being able to be in the finish chute to present her medal just inspired me to get off my butt and to start doing something,” Daniel says.
“If that wasn’t inspiring enough, while I was waiting there seeing people of all different shapes and sizes, older people, some of them were heavier set, tall, short … it really said to me ‘You could actually do this Dan’.”
Hours later Daniel was on Gumtree looking at bikes with the simple plan to begin cycling when he returned home to Chinchilla. By the end of the night he was the proud owner of a “road bike that looked good to me”.
Without realising, he soon discovered he’d bought a triathlon bike. “It was probably at that point I sort of committed to doing a triathlon,” he says.
Daniel recalls dipping his toe in the local 25m pool for the first time and the rude shock that awaited him.
“I made one 25m lap and I had to wait about 30 seconds to catch my breath, tried to swim back, got about half way, climbed out of the pool and that was me done for the day,” he laughs.
“I had a long way to go.
“I think where it all flipped for me … I got on to Training Peaks and purchased a beginners training plan, I downloaded Strava and I started to get all the apps working for me. It was motivating to see your fitness starting to grow.
“It was something that I just chipped away at, progressively got further distance, and I remember sitting in the car with my daughter being so excited that I’d been able to swim 400m without having to stop. And she’s looking at me like I’m weird. But I was really excited by that.
“When I swam 400m I thought I might even be able to get up to the Olympic distance, Elaina had already signed up for the Hervey Bay 100 and I thought that the Hervey Bay 50 would be a good goal. I took my wife’s recommendation to take on her coach, Toby Sommerville, from Next Level Tri Coaching and tried to get a spot in the 50 which was sold out. After months of pestering Jeffrey Morris (race director of the Hervey Bay 100), I finally got a spot on the start line
“By the time I got to the Hervey Bay 50 I’d already signed up for the Hell of the West triathlon with the intention that would be my first long course.”
I completed Hell of the West but the swim was cancelled, not feeling that I had really achieved the distance, I signed up for the Port Macquarie 70.3 IM in the middle of the year and Busselton Full IronMan at the end of 2020
However, there would be a reality check just around the corner.
“I was progressing really well for Port Mac but then I started to get a bit of pain in my glute,” Daniel says.
“Elaina had been experiencing a similar sort of pain and she urged me to get on to it quickly. At the time I was doing the Dr Google thing, as you do, but nothing was really getting better.
“That’s when Elaina got me on to Brad Beer.
“So I went in and did a face-to-face session with Brad. One of the things that was difficult for me was being from Chinchilla I didn’t really have access to a proper sports physio.
“The one thing I noticed as soon as I met him, was he really leverages off technology. Very quickly he diagnosed I had a high hamstring tendinopathy … which was relief in itself just to have an accurate diagnosis because it got me off Google and trying to self-medicate.
“No one likes to be injured but it’s worse to have an injury and you don’t know what it is.
“He sent me a podcast he’d previously done on tendinopathy which gave me more information on the injury I actually had. I now knew I was in it for the long haul and it wasn’t going to be a quick fix.
“The best thing was I didn’t have to stop training at all. That was my biggest fear, I had this race coming up in NSW and the last thing I wanted to do was pull up my training.
“I think if I had gone to any other physio they would have said ‘It’s overuse, you have to stop training and rest it’.
“Being in Chinchilla I was able to do every other physio session remotely. By using Facetime we were able to do everything we could have face to face. And when Covid hit we were still able to carry on and do everything remotely without any impact at all.
“The injury I had had to get worse before it got better. But the whole time I was going through it I was quite confident in Brad’s knowledge that we were heading in the right direction even though sometimes it felt like we were going backwards.
“When it did flare up I’d send him a message – I’d be freaking out – and he get back to me saying ‘calm down’. One of his sayings is ‘a flare-up doesn’t equal a freak-out’ which was kind of comforting to know these types of injury can be a bit finnicky. And just to keep to the program and you’ll get over the hump.
“Despite COVID hitting and causing Port Mac to be cancelled. I managed to make my own race in Chinchilla, swimming in the local weir with a brisk air temperature of 9°C, riding on the bumpy outback roads and running around town with my family and my mate Daryl Cirson circling in support vehicles. Despite carrying an injury I made it to my finish line getting a podium in the first ever Chinchilla 70.3 (note: I came first and last place). To me that was a big achievement and a bit of a proud moment.”
Brad says when Daniel first presented in April 2020 he was being hindered by left-side proximal hamstring tendinopathy which he’d described as a “persistent bastard” as well left-sided plantar fasciitis and right-sided peroneal tendinopathy.
“Our first session was face to face and after that we were able to conduct all our sessions using telehealth,” Brad says.
Daniel says during subsequent training he had two bike crashes resulting in broken ribs, road rash and a bruised wrist.
“On both occasions, when Brad found out, he contacted me to offer support and advice as a fellow athlete. There are not many people who would provide that level of support outside of their business requirement,” Daniel says.
A number of prospective events loomed but were either called off because of Covid or flooding, although Daniel was able to complete the Sunshine Coast Half.
“As luck would have it I was able to transfer through to the Cairns IronMan this year which was kind of sentimental in a way being the place where the fire was lit,” he said.
“Probably five weeks prior to the race, my posterior tibular tendon flared up. Once again I got into Dr Google – I wasn’t able to get a hold of Brad straight away – and it sounded like it was all doom and gloom and my chance of becoming an IronMan was over. I had convinced myself I was suffering from adult acquired flat foot.
“My coach, Toby, gave me a stern talking to, saying ‘Brad sorted you out before, get on to him and GET OFF DR GOOGLE. He also stated if I went to a GP or a podiatrist, they will just tell you to rest. Brad will get you to the finish line.”
Message received. After a consultation with Brad it turned out to be the tendon sheath and not the tendon itself. With a few exercises, nightly cream and glad wrap on the injured ankle and some softly, softly training sessions, Daniel was able to make it to the start line
Daniel set himself a target time of sub 12 hours which he said “was probably a bit of a pipe dream”. He managed to stop the clock in 11hrs 20min.
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