The journey to a career in elite professional sport requires a special type of competitive spirit, and few embody it more than Renee Kiley.
For a large period of her adult life, competing at the very top level would have seemed an impossibility for the Australian. But triathlon not only provided a route back to physical wellbeing, it also gave her a new career.
She joined the Yogi Triathlete podcast this week to speak openly about her incredible journey from being overweight and in poor health to a career in professional sport.
Renee left home in 2000 to study at university, the moment she says bad habits began creeping into her life. Playing basketball at both State and National level as a teenager quickly became a very distant memory.
Her health and fitness deteriorated as she swapped sport and exercise for studying and work.
She explained: “I think when I left home when I was 17 and moved to the city, it was like all of a sudden I didn’t have this discipline around me. It escalates and before you know it, you’re super, super unhealthy.”
As well as moving away from home, Renee cited her addictive personality as a possible explanation for that lack of exercise.
“I started working, because I had to pay my own way, so I was working part-time while I studied, and I just fell in love with work and my career.
“I stopped doing uni after like a year-and-a-half into my course, and when I worked full-time, I just got obsessed with [my] career. Making money, being important, succeeding in my job – so yes, that is a very strong trait.”
Renee gained a significant amount of weight over more than a decade away from sport, reaching 104kg at one stage. Her parents noticed, but they allowed her to figure things out for herself.
“I think my Mum and Dad mentioned my weight a couple of times. So, we are talking a 13-year period from when I started school to when I did my first triathlon.
“They thought they’d brought me up well enough to know at some point I’d actually figure it out for myself – and I think that’s the thing with any addiction or bad place in life.
“You can have all the support in the world, but until you get that rock-bottom, lightbulb moment that makes you want to change – nothing is going to change really.”
Even the stark results of tests Renee underwent during a visit to a health retreat did not act as enough of a stimulus to alter her lifestyle.
The turning point
Instead, that lightbulb moment finally came at a triathlon in 2013, as she stood on the sidelines in spectator mode.
“I was just standing on the sidelines of the race that day, and if anyone has been to Noosa in Queensland, Australia it is just stunning, it is one of the biggest triathlons in the world.
“The atmosphere, it’s on the beach, on the coast, so it’s just beautiful, but I remember looking around and feeling so out of place – really unhealthy, really big and in like designer maxi threads.
“I was standing on the sidelines and thought gosh, there is big people and fit people, old people and young people.”
That day would be the moment that literally changed Renee’s life. Memories of her childhood in sport came flooding back. She was bitten by the bug again.
“I just had a moment, and I was like ‘God I swam a bit when I was a kid, maybe I could do one of these’ and I got this overwhelming urge to see if I could challenge myself and do this triathlon.
“I signed up for the race when I got home, but I didn’t do anything about it until January 2, 2014.
“I went to a local bike store and bought a road bike with flat pedals, and that was the start of my journey.”
Now, some seven years on, Renee sits at #66 in the latest PTO World Rankings. An established elite triathlete with professional victories to her name.
The journey she travelled took hard work and mental toughness, two traits she now puts down to her upbringing back in New South Wales.
“My parents were amazing. We were taught work ethic from a young age, and even like during sport and that my Dad would push me, so I always thought I was pushed harder than everybody else.
“It was never good enough, you know, always like working harder and pushing harder and never got told ‘oh you’re amazing’ or anything like that. It was always trying to be better.”
Now, as we head into the 2021 triathlon season, Renee is still pushing harder to be better. But doing so confident in the knowledge she has already come an awful long way. The journey continues.