Madibaz hockey - Chelsey Cooke

Madibaz hockey captain Chelsey Cooke went into her maiden Ironman 70.3 triathlon with the objective of just finishing.

Yet, when the sand settled on the Gqeberha beachfront, the 20-year-old Mandela University student found herself on top of the podium in the 18 to 24 age category.

Cooke cracked a time of 5:52:48 to finish 14 minutes ahead of compatriot Alicia Smit.

Given her background in sport, which also includes national colours for lifesaving, it’s no surprise that she overachieved.

Her brother Keegan’s achievements provided the spark for her to try her hand at the taxing swimming, cycling and running sports discipline. He is a pro triathlete who does double duty as her coach.

Attempting to conquer a multi-discipline event requiring you to swim 1.9km, cycle 90km and run 21.1km concurrently is a challenge unlike any other – hence her goal to “just finish it and do it with a smile”.

“But the swim went well because I was able to build a 13-minute gap, although I didn’t know that at the time.”

That lead was eventually whittled away on the biking leg, which took place in tough, windy conditions.

Madibaz hockey - Chelsey Cooke

Madibaz hockey captain turned triathlete Chelsey Cooke won her age group at Ironman 70.3 Nelson Mandela Bay last month. Photo: Supplied

“When I got off the bike my coach told me that second place had caught me and that she was three minutes ahead of me on the run.

“I managed to close that gap in the first 6km and knew I had it because I was running a lot stronger.”

Ironman 70.3 Nelson Mandela Bay is famous for its crowd support during the running leg and that was all the sustenance Cooke needed to finish strongly.

“That was definitely one of the highlights, having all my family and friends support me, especially while I was on the run,” the human movement science student said.

“It’s a feeling that I can’t even explain.”

She was naturally thrilled with the result.

“As this was my first ever Ironman 70.3, I couldn’t have been happier with how it went. I’m so proud of myself to see how far I’ve come since I started taking triathlon seriously.”

Cooke had her first foray into the sport when she podiumed in a Summer Triathlon Series race in the city.

“The main reason for my success would be my coach sticking by my side all the way through the training and believing that I can achieve the things that I don’t think are possible,” she said.

“He has taken me so far in the space of a year. I couldn’t have done it without him,” Cooke, who also enjoyed support from her training club, said.

Her triumph in April saw her qualify for the Worlds, an opportunity that she sadly won’t be able to take up due to being in the final year of her studies.

“Unfortunately the dates clash with our exams and I need to focus on those first.”