Sam Appleton (Appo) is one of the most successful middle-distance triathlon athletes on the planet.
Towards the end of 2019, still aged just 28, he triumphed at 70.3 Waco to claim the 16th title of his career to date at that distance.
The win was all the sweeter as a high-speed race crash at 70.3 Oceanside in April had left him with a broken collarbone and put him out of action for several months.
He got married during the enforced absence and then began to work his way back to peak fitness, for as well as having his sights set on more half-distance success he was also aiming for a first try at a full-distance race.
The Aussie's maiden 70.3 victory came at the end of the 2013 season, in Canberra, and he's been on the top spot of the podium at least once every year, bar one, since then.
It is a remarkable record, and in compiling it he has been able to race against and beat his heroes and role models in the sport.
Hitting his idols for six in a vintage 2015
Explaining how he first got started in triathlon, Appo says: "I grew up near the water and loved swimming and running, so thought why not throw in cycling!"
He went down the ITU shorter distances route in his late teens but took a break for university before returning to the sport and finding his niche at middle-distance.
In 2012 he was fourth at IRONMAN 70.3 Cairns and fifth at 70.3 Port Macquarie, and he showed an exceptional level of consistency throughout the following season with five more top-five places, including third in the 70.3 Australian Championships at Mandurah.
The breakthrough first win came at the end of that year in Canberra. It was incredibly close after both the swim and the bike that day, with just a handful of seconds separating the top three.
The run though was a different matter as Appleton produced a 1:14:36 half marathon, just eight seconds off the quickest time of the day, to put daylight between himself and the rest.
It was in 2015 when Sam really made the sport sit up and take notice as he reeled off six victories in a row, four of which came in IRONMAN 70.3 events (Busselton, Cairns, Vineman and Austin).
The streak started at the Huskisson Long Course Triathlon (which held plenty of sentimental value as it was his first half-distance event back in 2012), followed by the Challenge Batemans Bay Half Distance.
The first IRONMAN 70.3 event was Busselton in May, where he bested Terenzo Bozzone by just over a minute.
Five weeks later he turned up at Cairns to take on a stacked field including two of his role models, five-time World Champion Craig 'Crowie' Alexander and Tim Reed (who now also happened to be Appo's coach). Some 30km into the ride it was Sam who led the way by 30 seconds.
The advantage was just over two minutes starting the run and Sam never looked like being caught, clocking a 1:14:16 half marathon to win by more than four minutes from Alexander, with Reed in third.
"I honestly never thought I would have lined up against guys like these, and beat them like I did," he said afterwards.
"Even being mentioned in the same sentence as them is something I am still getting used to!"
He then reproduced that form Stateside with a dominant display to win 70.3 Vineman. He was quickest on the bike (2:03:17) and run (1:13:40) to again relegate Alexander to second.
Win number six came at 70.3 Austin as he rounded off the year in fitting style by overhauling uber-biker Andrew Starykowicz in the half marathon.
It was always going to be hard to match that year, but Sam continued to progress and went close in 2017 with five more wins.
By now he had his sights set on the 70.3 World Championship podium, having knocked on the door with fifth in Queensland in 2016 and fourth the following year at Chattanooga.
He was also sixth in Port Elizabeth in 2018 and eighth in Nice in 2019, for four consecutive top-10 finishes in the distance's most important race.
Sam showed he had fully recovered from that broken collarbone when he was involved in a thrilling battle with compatriots Josh Amberger and Tim Reed at 70.3 Coeur d'Alene in June 2019, eventually taking second.
Taking that form and freshness into the rest of the season saw Appleton notch career 70.3 wins number 15 and 16.
First up was Santa Rosa when he ran away from Tim O'Donnell and Reed to register his fourth victory in five appearances at the race. He followed that with another clear-cut success, this time at Waco.
Having further enhanced one of the very best middle-distance records in the sport, he was now about to embark on a new chapter of his career with a first full-distance IRONMAN at Western Australia.
In a race won in record time by two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee, Appleton produced a fine swim of 46:30 to exit the water at precisely the same time as the Brit. They were locked together on the bike too.
It was only in the marathon, when Sam's quads started to burn at the point he'd typically be finishing the run, that he began to lose touch and had to settle for fourth.
"I learned so much that day," he says of his experience.
"It's not just double distance, there's so much more to it than that. The last 10km was agony."
A world away from his first triathlon
Sam splits his time between Australia and his training base in Boulder and to date it has been a productive balance.
"Boulder's perfect for athletes, the altitude at 1600m is ideal and the training options are fantastic. But I still think of Sydney as home!"
Appleton is now working with coach Matt Dixon and is targeting improvements to his already-impressive running.
"That's where a lot of races are won, and my splits are getting faster.”
For a man who has one of the biggest hauls of middle-distance victories to his name, the winning drive Sam now displays wasn't quite as evident when he first started.
"I DNF'd my first triathlon when I was about 13. I did one lap on the bike and thought I'd finished that leg but was told I had another lap to go and couldn't face it!"