Coast athlete a step away from achieving lifelong dream
IN the lead-up to her life-changing Coolangatta Gold win, the days started with a two-hour swim then an hour in the gym. After work or study came a two-hour all-board session in the surf, then an hour running.
Each push-up, each stroke in the pool, and each thrust of her surf ski through the waves brought Lana Rogers one step closer to claiming the coveted crown.
But finding her place on the podium was no easy feat for the 23-year-old Noosa athlete.
The 42km race is known as Australia’s toughest surf sports endurance event, with surf ski, swim, board and run components.
It’s the second major surf sports win Lana has achieved in the past 17 months, after claiming the Ironwoman national title – her sport’s top honour – in April last year.
She is now one Ironwoman summer series win away from achieving her sporting dream: the surf lifesaving “trifecta”.
“When it comes to race day, you want to win those three titles – those most prestigious titles in surf lifesaving, which would be the series crown, the Coolangatta Gold crown and an Australian Ironwoman title,” Lana said.
“I’ve managed to do two of them, and they’re so, so, so special to me, especially when I won that Coolangatta Gold crown – it’s very, very hard to get.
“I managed to do it, and I can’t believe it – I managed to make my mark in history.”
Asked what it was like to line up on her surf ski next to champions, Lana admitted to being nervous but once the gun went off, she was all focus.
“You obviously know the ones to watch: the girls who’ve won it before,” she said.
“The adrenalin’s pumping and you’re ready to race, and you’re focused on getting that ski nice and clean, and stay in that first pack.”
The gruelling five-part Coolangatta Gold race comprises a 23km surf ski leg, 2.1km run and 3.6km swim followed by a 6.1km board leg and final 7.1km run.
“You’ve got to fight for that top spot, for sure,” she said.
“You’ve got to be smart. It’s really tactical.”
The father of six-time Coolangatta Gold champion Ali Day had once told Lana it would take her three attempts before she won the Gold, and he was right, she said.
“He said, you’ve got to do three – to win it,” she said. “You’ve got to get your head around it.
“I thought, ‘Oh, there’s no way I can do three’ – but I won it on my third time.”
The daughter of two-time Olympic swimmer Greg Rogers, Lana was thrown into surf sports at a young age, along with her sister Dahlas, now 24.
She and Dahlas both embraced it – first as nippers at Cronulla, NSW, then through the Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club.
In her late teens, Lana and her family lived in Rockhampton, and she would travel to Maroochydore every month to train.
When she was 18, the Rogers family moved to Noosa, where Noosa SLSC became her club and champion surf sports athlete and Coolangatta Gold winner Darren Mercer her coach.
“When I made my first Nutri-Grain Series in 2016-17, I knew that I wanted to do this for a long, long time,” she said.
“I wanted to not just do it, but to become a legend at it. You know, make my own type of history in the sport. It really clicked for me.”
Living and training on the Sunshine Coast was challenging, because club resources were limited compared with those in urban centres, she said.
Many history-making athletes in surf life saving are from the Gold Coast, from the “big clubs”.
“Noosa’s a very family club,” Lana said.
“It’s small, but I’m managing to do the work.”
But the upside was a level of anonymity that goes with living in a regional centre, she said.
“It’s a bonus, being in Noosa – it’s your own little island.
“People start to forget about you. Because you’re not on the Gold Coast, you’re not bumping into all these athletes in your training.
“You’re able to do your own thing.”
Lana said she had trained hard for the 2017-18 Australian Ironwoman Championship in Perth at Scarborough Beach but winning the national title was still a shock.
“I did not expect it. It wasn’t on my radar at all,” she said.
“But it made me hungrier to want more, and motivate me for that next season. I’m really thankful for that.”
Seven months later, she was at the Gold Coast, lining up to start the Coolangatta Gold for the third time.
“It’s a very, very different type of racing that we do in the middle of summer,” Lana said.
In the Nutri-Grain Ironman competitions, “you could come in and win on a wave”, but Coolangatta Gold competitors had to “grind it out” for four-and-a-half hours, or however long it took to complete.
“It’s the longest, but if you won it, you’re the one to watch that summer.”
This year, the Coolangatta Gold marked the first round of the Ironman series, which comprises five rounds and will run at various locations between the middle of this month and the end of January.
Starting the series in first place was a good feeling, Lana said.
Despite being hounded by media who want to know whether she’s aiming to win the current Ironwoman series, Lana said she needed a break and had relished the six weeks between the Coolangatta Gold and the Ironwoman Series Round 2 at Burleigh Heads this month.
“I’ve just started training, on Monday,” she said.
“My main goal for the series is to be consistent.”
Lana’s parents run the Tewantin swimming pool.
“I guess my dad is my inspiration … he’s done so much himself in the sporting world,” she said.
“My sister and I have just lived and breathed sport.”
Asked what she loved most about surf life saving, she said the culture and community around it was a big part of the attraction.
“The atmosphere you get on the beach – at every single carnival, everybody just knows each other so well,” she said.
“You’re like each other’s family. That’s the part I love the most.”
Hitting the water for a swim in the ocean “instantly calms me”, she said.
Lana said she had to pinch herself at times that she had actually managed to become the athlete that, as a little girl, she’d hoped she would become.
All Ironman and Ironwoman competitors were obligated to do 25 hours of beach patrol in order to race. Lana said she loved this way of giving back to her club.
“I was down there on Sunday morning and helped out with the nippers – they just love it,” she said.
“They love seeing what you can show them and what they can learn … it’s an unreal feeling, being able to teach.”
Lana recalled meeting Ironwoman champion Liz Pluimers when she was a Nipper herself.
“I was like, ‘Wow – wow, I want to be one of those girls’,” she said.
“I guess I am one now. I wanted to be a Nutri-Grain girl and I am one now … it’s unreal, for sure.”