When Lucy Charles-Barclay “lost the love” for her first sport of swimming, she could have had no idea just how quickly her life would change after trying out triathlon.
She says what started as a fun hobby soon “spiralled out of control after realising, I’m pretty good at this”.
The story began 20 years ago, when an eight-year-old Lucy joined Hoddesdon Swimming Club. County, Regional and National Championship medals would follow over the next 10 years as her talent in the water developed.
Excelling as a distance swimmer, the addition of the 10km Marathon Swim to the Olympic Games programme provided another avenue of opportunity for Lucy. Despite her best efforts though, it wasn’t to be.
She said: "After missing selection for the London 2012 games I had to make a decision on whether I could carry on doing another four years in the sport to try and get to the next Olympics.
"I gave it a really good go, I got my best ever times in the pool and good results in open water, but I lost the love of the sport. So I pretty much gave it up altogether."
Lucy’s next endeavour was a huge departure from elite sport as she took up a role in the marketing department of a wildlife park.
But time away from the pressure of elite sport, on reflection, would prove pivotal. It allowed her love of racing to return naturally, as well as providing the opportunity to pursue it in a different arena.
A second chance at sporting greatness
Lucy, and her now husband, Reece, signed up to race at IRONMAN UK in 2014. Second in age-group was a solid start, but the competitive streak would quickly kick in.
12 months later she returned to Bolton, more prepared and approaching an hour-and-a-half faster. An age-group winner this time around (as was Reece), the pair would be heading to Hawaii in October.
In a remarkable year, Lucy would win her 18-24 category at both the 70.3 and IRONMAN World Championships. She had transitioned from ex-swimmer, to triathlon novice, to double World Champion within two years. The professional ranks were calling and Lucy’s rise there would be similarly impressive.
Initially rejected by British Triathlon when applying for her Pro licence, third place in her debut race at IRONMAN Lanzarote quickly showed she could compete with the best. A stress fracture of the Tibia would soon end her rookie season however.
From that point on, Charles-Barclay has barely put a foot wrong, her rise to the highest ranks of the sport happening quicker than almost everyone could have predicted.
Returning to Lanzarote in 2017, this time around she broke the course record on the way to victory, and just weeks later headed to Samorin, for the first edition of The Championship from Challenge Family.
Lucy was so sick pre-race that she contemplated not even starting what turned out to be a thrilling battle which saw the lead change multiple times within the closing kilometres. It was the swimmer who took victory on the run, and she would return for repeat wins in 2018 and 2019.
Second to Sarah Crowley at the IRONMAN European Championship in Frankfurt ensured Lucy was far from under the radar, but now the question was whether should transfer that form to Kona.
Defending champion Daniela Ryf did not pass her until the closing miles of the bike, while Lucy showed she could run too. Taking second place, she joined a select group of female athletes to have broken the nine-hour mark on the Big Island.
The Daniela-Lucy rivalry developed further in 2018 as the pairing, along with Germany’s Anne Haug in third, replicated their podium positions at the 70.3 World Championship a month earlier.
2018 then finished on particularly high note, as Lucy and Reece were married and Charles became Charles-Barclay.
The success for Lucy continued into 2019 with a second triumph at the IRONMAN African Championship and redemption at Challenge Roth, after falling short by just nine seconds 12 months earlier. But once again Hawaii was her primary target.
Leading the race until the 25km mark of the run, this time her nemesis would be the remarkable running speed of Haug. “I gave it my all… there was nothing more left to give,” she said afterwards
Lucy had to battle hard too with Australia’s Sarah Crowley over the closing miles, but the end result would be a third consecutive second-place finish.
To hold off Crowley, she had called upon the best piece of racing advice she had been given - “It’s not over until you cross that finish line, never give up”.
After coming so close on so many occasions already, Lucy came away even more determined to go one better at Kona in the future.
“I think every year this race gets harder because you know what’s to come, but then you also get more experienced and know how to race it.
“This was only my third time and I’m only 26… so hopefully I’ll have a fair few more cracks at this race and be able to get that top spot sometime soon.”
Racing for... a puppy
With results and performances improving year after year, it comes as little surprise to find what drives Lucy. “I want to see where my physical limits are, just how fast I can go,” she says.
While swimming is her natural strength, triathlon has allowed her to find passion in other disciplines.
She explains: “You can explore so many new places on two wheels. Plus, I love those really brutal bike workouts on the indoor trainer where you can turn yourself inside out.”
Away from sport, Lucy enjoys photography and design, while the addition of Lola the puppy to the Charles-Barclay house was perhaps the ultimate motivational ploy from Reece.
“The deal was if I won the race (Kona 2019), I could get two puppies, if I came second I could get one and if came third there might not be a puppy.”