International Women’s Day: Q&A With Triathlon’s Wonder Women

8 Mar 2024

Photo Credit: Alex Polizzi

This International Women’s Day we proudly spotlight the triathlon journeys of five incredible women – Michelle Cooper, Carol Wooldridge, Eliza Wregg, Hayley Gorman and Anu Francis.

These remarkable women generously opened up, sharing their personal stories and reflecting on the profound impact that triathlon has had on their lives.

How did your journey in triathlon begin, and what inspired you to take that initial leap?

Michelle Cooper: I started triathlon about 12-13 years ago now at a Triathlon Pink event. I was encouraged by my future sister in law and husband to give it a go, I’d never done anything even remotely like it, but found an amazingly fun and energetic environment and all of a sudden, I was hooked!

Carol Wooldridge: I’d seen an event advertised called Triathlon Pink, and at that stage I was training with a group of girls but not doing anything too serious. It looked great, and I just thought ‘wow, we should all go together’, so we did. Five of us all travelled into Homebush and did TriPink and I just loved the crowd and the atmosphere and decided I wanted to do another event.

Eliza Wregg: I was really lucky that I grew up with a Mum who was into triathlon, she wasn’t very serious, but watching her from a young age really inspired me to give it a crack.

Hayley Gorman: I got started in the sport way back in 2008. My Dad did his first triathlon which inspired me to sign up for a Wheet-Bix triathlon in Melbourne and it’s just been a part of my life ever since.

Anu Francis: I actually got into triathlon three years ago. I was a para rower with the aim of getting into the Paralympics. I had a bit of a back injury and was a little disadvantaged in classification and so had a look at what other sports were out there, and that’s when I found triathlon. I got involved with high performance quite early with my sights set on the Paralympics, and now I’m ranked second in the world going into Paris – it’s been a wild three and a half years.

What stands out as your favourite aspect of the triathlon community?

Michelle Cooper: It’s not a team sport but at the same time, it is. You get to experience some great moments and some great locations, but it’s the people that really make it. You’ll never be alone, you’ll never feel like you don’t have someone there that you can turn to, so for me, the people are absolutely everything.

Carol Wooldridge: It’s great to have consistency and just know you can train each week with people who want to run, ride or swim with you. You can be someone who is in the middle of training for a big event, or you can be someone who just goes to the gym but wants to dabble in a bit of cycling in a safe environment and maybe have a coffee afterwards, there’s room for everyone.

Eliza Wregg: It’s made up of an incredibly positive group of like minded individuals. I find compared to other sports, we’re really focused on being strong, and in general the triathlon community is just so supportive, everyone is always trying to uplift each other which I find really empowering.

Hayley Gorman: The community is just amazing. The vibes at the event village the day before, the morning of and afterwards are just awesome.

Anu Francis: Whether it be the high performance program right through to the grassroots level of my state and my amazing triathlon club, Flow Endurance, everyone has been so supportive and so welcoming. It’s a sport where you’ve got kids to people in their 90s. We all come together and share a mutual love for the sport and living such a healthy, active lifestyle. It’s something you don’t necessarily see in other sports.

Why do you think it’s important for women to get involved in triathlon?

Michelle Cooper: Having women involved in every capacity, from a technical official through to an athlete is really important and makes for a safe and fair environment on race day. Not only that but having women in crucial decision making spaces, such as in administration and governance roles makes sure that our voices are heard, that the representation is there and that we’re looking at things from multiple perspectives.

Carol Wooldridge: There’s so many different ways to get involved, so just give it a go and you’ll find that from that, you’ll want to do another one. And for the Mum’s out there, how many sports can you do where your kids are racing in the same race as you. I have three girls and just being able to do something together that we all loved, travelling together, racing together, getting coffee after a training session, it was the best.

Eliza Wregg: It’s an opportunity to see what you’re truly capable of. Once you experience a race, push yourself and achieve something you might not have thought was possible, it really is such an empowering feeling. No matter your age or fitness level, it can be such an incredibly empowering journey.

Hayley Gorman: It’s just such a fun sport and unless you put the pressure on yourself there’s no pressure to perform at the elite level. You can just go do it with friends, take your time, have fun, do it in a team, however you like. It’s also really good for your health and just generally really fun and a great way to make new friends.

Anu Francis: To me triathlon has been so great for my confidence. It really builds your sense of self and confidence. It’s just such a welcome, inclusive community. You’re guaranteed to have the most fun doing it and meet the most incredible people you’ve ever met.

Michelle Cooper

Michelle Cooper is a formidable force in the world of triathlon, holding the position of President at both AusTriathlon and Oceania Triathlon. Additionally, her influence extends as an esteemed Executive Board Member of World Triathlon.

Michelle is a seasoned competitor, showcasing her passion for the sport by participating in an impressive seven World Triathlon Age Group World Championships events.

Carol Wooldridge

Carol Wooldridge’s passion for the sport extends beyond her role as AusTriathlon’s Technical and Sanctioning Manager.

As a proud mother, Carol has nurtured a trio of talented triathlon daughters, all of who were representive members of the Queensland State Team.

As an athlete she represented Australia at the 2014 World Triathlon Age-Group Championships in Edmonton.

Eliza Wregg

Eliza Wregg is an accomplished age group athlete with an impressive triathlon resume.

She has conquered multiple IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast events and IRONMAN 70.3 Port Macquarie, and taken on iconic races like the Mooloolaba Triathlon and the 2XU Triathlon Series.

Hayley Gorman

Hayley Gorman is an active member of Melbourne’s Bayside Tri Club and a regular participant in the 2XU Triathlon Series.

She demonstrated her commitment to the triathlon community by volunteering at this year’s IRONMAN Melbourne 70.3, and has also embraced the team spirit – taking on Noosa Triathlon’s teams event twice.

Anu Francis

Anu Francis is a professional para triathlete and Paris 2024 Paralympic hopeful, currently ranked second in the World Triathlon Paralympic Qualification List for the PTS2 Women category.

Her journey with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Dopa-Responsive Dystonia propelled her into a remarkable career in para sports.

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