‘. . . I said I’ll be back, now I’m back for good’ Laurelle fulfils promise

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SEVEN years ago it seemed like mere talk when Laurelle Brown, then Junior Africa Triathlon Women champion said she would come back to Zimbabwe after completing her studies in the United Kingdom.

Many believed having enrolled at Bournemouth University for her BSc (Hons) in Clinical Science the former Peterhouse School student was virtually lost to the UK.

(L-R) Zimbabwe’s Laurelle Elizabeth Brown, Egypt’s Basmla Elsalamoney, Zimbabwe’s Andie Leigh Kuipers pose on the podium of the Triathlon women’s final with their silver, gold, bronze medals respectively, during the 12th edition of the “African Games” on August 24, 2019 in Rabat. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)

She graduated with a first class pass and registered in Zimbabwe as a biokineticist before enrolling for a Masters in Science (physiotherapy) at Brighton University which she is also successfully completed.

“I really miss triathlon training and racing and I still dream of racing for Zimbabwe with the elites. I hope one day I will get back into it and see where it can take me,” Brown told this reporter five years ago.

“I’m not sure when it will be but I am just waiting for the right time. For now I still keep up to date with everything happening in Zimbabwe triathlon and I follow the triathlon World Series and my favourite athletes.”

Her desire was to be able to fill the void left by the retirement of two-time Olympian Chris Felgate who hung his swim suit, bike and spikes in 2012 having represented the country in two Olympics- Beijing, China in 2008 and the 2012 London Games.

Young Gideon Benade, 20, tried his luck at last year’s Troutbeck Africa Cup but is considering going back to compete with his age mates in the juniors.

“I am definitely hoping to follow in Chris’ footsteps and one day reach the Olympics but before I can do that I want to finish my studies,” Brown added then.

“Chris set a very high bar and it will be difficult to achieve because I know how much time and hard work he put in to get there but I think one day I can see myself at that level.”

However, true to her word, faith and belief she returned back to don the Zimbabwean colours starting with an inspiring second place finish at last year’s Africa Championships held in Morocco.

Now the long wait is over as she is set to make her elite debut on February 22 at the Bonaqua Troutbeck ATU Triathlon Africa Cup scheduled for Nyanga Troutbeck Resort.

“Zimbabwe is home, it’s always been home I find we have such an amazing community here we obviously have amazing weather especially for doing sport of which I love outdoors and being outside and it’s most definitely a draw to come back,” Brown tells the Daily News on Sunday on her choice of coming back to Zimbabwe.

“I enjoyed being in the UK, I got what I wanted out of it. I studied I got my qualifications and I think for me it means more coming back to Zimbabwe and being able to give back to our community and support the people who supported me so it’s good to be back. I’m practicing as a physiotherapist I’m still waiting for my final opening practicing certificate but I have been practicing for about eight months now.”

The transition from a junior to elite comes with a huge undertaking.

She is no under illusion of what is expected at this stage and she is very much eager to dive deep into the open water and swim herself to competitive safety.

“It’s quite a big jump from junior to elite, obviously in the juniors you more race national and continental whereas with the elite you always want to get onto the international circuit so what I decided to do was to finish off my juniors strong,” Brown added.

“I went over to Australia and competed there in a few local races before going to the London World Championships in 2013. After that the distance also increases from a junior to elite it doubles the distance. So I decided to take some time out going to study get a bit of support behind me so that I could come back and be able to work and prove myself as an triathlete.

“I skipped the Under 23 level which I think is also quite competitive but I don’t regret missing that era. I’m happy with what I have done and where I can go from here. As a triathlete I think you peak when you are in your late 20s to early 30s. If I have taken a few years out to go and study I think that’s probably more beneficial for me in the future.”

Brown is hoping to adjust well in her new endeavour.

“And now coming into elite I think I’m just going to have to see how I fare. Last year I started training again at about May for the All Africa Games which was in Morocco. I went into that race not expecting anything knowing how I was going to do and I came out with a very positive result. That’s definitely motivated me more to race more elite races and see how I fare,” she said.

“Troutbeck will be a very good one. Most athletes obviously have been racing on European circuits…so it will be great to see how I can compare with a lot of them. I have been putting a lot of work to this race in Troutbeck I’m trying to find the work, life and training balance which has been quite difficult but I have been putting in a lot of hours probably doing about three-four hours of training everyday up until the event and will see how it goes.”

The 2012/2013 Junior Sportswoman of the Year came back to active competition starting with the All Africa Games in Morocco where she scooped silver medal.

This won her recognition at the 2019/2020 Annual National Sports Awards ran by the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) where she walked away as first runner-up in the Sportswoman of the Year category behind winner- bodybuilder Regina Jonga.

“It was a huge impact (coming second in Morocco) when I got back at the beginning of the year. I didn’t really have any plans of racing triathlon competitively and when opportunities came to qualify for Africa Games I decided to take it and just see where I went,” she said.

Laurelle Brown

“Coming back from Africa Games and having got a silver medal and obviously having the support from Triathlon Zimbabwe as well as SRC and the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee it really pushed me to try and compete a little bit more on that level. I think without that success at the Africa Games I wouldn’t be here wanting to go for Troutbeck and for all other races this year. So it definitely has inspired me and definitely given me a lot of motivation to as I said see where I am in the world and see how far I can take it.”

Like Felgate, she dreams of competing at the Olympics one day.

“Olympics has always been a dream because of how the studying went and all of that it was too late as it is now its sort of too late to get enough Olympic points to qualify for Olympics  2020 but 2024 its definitely on my radar,” Brown said.

“It will be nice to see all those juniors coming through. It increases your competition and it increases your support for each other at the high level.

So it’s certainly a consideration hopefully this year goes quite well and I can definitely do quite well if I feel that I will be able to compete at that level then I’m definitely going to give it a go.”

Triathlon Zimbabwe events manager Rick Fulton said the association is excited to see Brown coming back to where she belong.

“I think it’s great, I think she’s got a great pedigree she was the 2013 Junior Africa Champion she won silver at the Rabat Africa games in the triathlon there. I think she will do well and she’s holding her head up higher in that race,” Fulton said.

“She has got the home advantage- the crowd will be behind her she’s loved by everybody she will be a crowd favourite and you know what that does to you- she won’t let us down.”

Some of the 25-year-old’s great moments in triathlon include being at the ITU and ATU training camps.

“They are always so much and I have met so many great people from them and learnt a lot of little things,” she said.

“I have also enjoyed all the Zimbabwe tours, I love travelling to new places and seeing new things with the team. In racing my best moment had to be winning my first major at the South Africa Championships then following through to win all Africa as a junior.”

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