Louise Mackinlay will be remembered for some of the most extraordinary performances by an Australian female triathlete in the history of the sport but unfortunately some of her greatest triumphs she can’t remember.
She became the fastest Australian over the arduous Hawaiian ironman course on Kona in 1986 – just 12 months after her first triathlon – breaking the previous best time by an Australian by an hour-and-a-half.
Such was her versatility she could well described as the Emmas and Mirinda Carfrae all rolled into one – a machine that they tried to stop but it just kept on kicking over and over – on automatic pilot.
The next three years after “getting hooked” was a whirlwind of successes from the Nepean to Canberra, down to Devonport and Wollongong, on to the Coral Coast and the Gold Coast before winning selection on Australia’s team for the first World Championship in Avignon and further wins in Noumea, Saipan and Munich as well as three Australian Ironman titles – running herself into Forster folklore.
Two times at Kona and the Ironman World Championship and five times at Forster and the Australian Ironman Triathlon and Louise, who also raced under her married name of Louise Bonham after marrying coach Ron, conquered them all – re-writing the record books as she went.
Creating history and leaving an amazing legacy. There was no race and no distance Louise could not master –often referred to as the “Lady Of Iron.”
But one fateful day in Canada in 1989 after making the Australian team for the World Championships in Avignon, changed her life forever. Hit by a car while riding her bike, Louise was lucky to survive, suffering a head injury that caused severe memory loss.
Remarkably as only Louise knows how, she continued her career through the ‘90s where she returned to Forster to win Ironman Australia for a third time in 1992.
But she doesn’t remember those record breaking 9 hrs 24minutes and 15 seconds she spent swimming, riding and running towards a race record and the first woman under 9hrs 30 seconds as she etched her name into the record books for the third time.
“I look back at the videos of that race and it’s like I’m looking at some other person,” said Louise.
“I just can’t remember it – that part of my life is so sketchy. I even find it hard to get excited when I can’t remember, thank goodness for the video.”
But it hasn’t stopped her from racing and playing a key role in the triathlon community through the Panthers Tri Club, although shoulder problems are causing some havoc but not preventing her from joining the “Bold and Beautiful” group that swims at Manly every week.
“To be inducted into the Triathlon Australia is just amazing,” said Bonham.
“I was glad I was sitting in my car in the car park and not driving – I would have run off the road,” said Mackinlay.
“I was actually given a body that probably wasn’t meant to be athletic and suffered all kinds of injuries and it had to be managed and I have to pay credit to Greg (Bonham) for the role he played as my coach in that time – he was great.
“Some people suggested I was over trained but I can tell you that wasn’t the case at all.
“I just wished I could have had an uninterrupted run into Kona and had a real good crack at it, that’s probably my only regret over a career that gave me so much enjoyment and still is.”
Her 2014 induction into the Triathlon Hall of Fame follows her induction into the Ironman Hall of Fame in 1997.
Once referred to as ‘The Lady of Iron’, Louise was one of Australia’s key female triathletes of the period when the national circuit began to consolidate, and Australian triathletes began to assert their presence as a collective on the international stage.
Louise Mackinlay first attempted to swim, bike and run in January 1985 when she entered the 2Day FM Triathlon. She went on to surprise the Australian triathlon public when she finished 10th woman overall at the 1986 Hawaii Ironman - beating the best previous time for an Australian woman by almost 90 minutes faster. Mackinlay’s consistency was apparent across a variety of distances. Over the next few years, among many other achievements, she took out Nepean twice (1988, 1989), the SRI Chinmoy Long Course in Canberra five times, Devonport (1989), Wollongong (1989), Coral Coast, and the David Hawkins memorial Triathlon at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast (otherwise known as The Pines) to become the 1991 Olympic distance Australian champion. She was also national long course champion in 1989 and 1991.
By the end of 1988/1989, Louise was selected to compete in the first official Triathlon World Championships at Avignon as part of the national team. During the European trip, at the final race of the European series, held at Munich, Bonham ‘blitzed the women’s field’, and became one of the first woman known to have finished to finish an Olympic distance race course in less under than two hours.
Demonstrating her versatility, Louise followed up on her 1986 Hawaiian Ironman success with wins at IRONMAN Australia in 1987, 1988 and 1989. She missed the 1990 race and finished second when she returned to Forster in 1991. In 1992, after shoulder reconstructive surgery and minimal training, she resumed her IRONMAN Australia crown. As Rod Cedaro claimed when she approached the finish line: “Here she comes, she has been Aussie champion over every distance, world age group champion, she has overcome injury, she has blitzed the old race record by ten minutes, she is also a four time winner of this race, welcome her home after 9:24:15 – Louise Bonham.”
With top ten finishes at both Hawaii and the 1989 ITU World Championships, and wins at international races in Noumea, Saipan and Munich, she was among the first Australian women to demonstrate the country’s potential strength in international competition.