IT WAS not that long ago champion Ironwoman Courtney Hancock was a young nipper ready to test herself against the best of the rest in her state.
Growing up in Sawtell on the New South Wales mid- north coast, Hancock was driven to win events not unlike those on display at the Surf Life Saving Queensland Youth Championships in Hervey Bay this weekend.
"I was always very competitive, I always loved to push myself to the best I could,” Hancock said.
"I had some good competition in my age group - at the time I didn't hate it but I thought it was pretty hard I got one of the hardest age groups.
"Looking back it made me push my skills to where I could be. I'm pretty grateful for that.”
A three-time Nutri-Grain Series winner and two-time Coolangatta Gold champion, Hancock has enjoyed a successful career which includes multiple state and national titles.
But for Hancock, who was mobbed by young fans before and after our interview yesterday, the opportunity to see the next generation of athletes in action was rewarding.
She praised the nippers, who competed in age groups from under-11s to U15s.
"They are incredibly fast - I'm glad they're not racing us yet because they'd come pretty close,” she said.
"You take it back to when you were this year, and particularly going into the Nutri-Grain series next week, this is where it all began, and this is where I started dreaming of becoming an Ironwoman.
"The skill level of the kids is incredible, it's so far advanced. Being here with the kids - they are the future of our sport, and this is where I started.
"There's some amazing talent coming through.”
Hancock's advice for youngsters was to ensure that no matter what, they always gave 100 per cent.
"I think just make the most of it because it goes so fast,” Hancock said.
"I remember being that age and I thought you've got so many years. Just don't take it for granted. It's always nicer to finish a race when you've given 100%.”
Hancock also suggested athletes keep hydrated, be sunsafe, and never forget to warm down their muscles after competition.