While she may have been born in the United Kingdom and is now based in the United States, World Ironman women's champion Leanda Cave still has strong links to Far North Queensland. Andrew Piva caught up with her after her latest victory in Kona.
LEANDA Cave believes it will take 10 years for her to appreciate what it meant winning the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii last October.
Some achievements are like that. Their significance can't be measured in the seconds after their making.
They need time to mature, like an awkward adolescent, before their full worth is revealed.
For the past four months, Cave has relied on other people to tell her what it should feel like to win the most famous ironman (3.8km swim/180km cycle/42.2km run) race in the world.
Friends, families and sponsors - the support network that carried Cave to Kona - has revelled in the victory more than she has. But Cave is okay with that.
She was so wholly invested in the dream of winning that its fulfilment remains surreal.
``In a funny type of way, I think everyone is more elated than I am,'' Cave says of the win. ``They've seen the struggles and the hardships.
``I think looking back at my career 10 years down the line I'll go `Wow'.
But right now it's kind of not what I felt it was going to be like.
``It was a huge achievement, but it's probably relief I feel more than anything at the moment.''
Cave is sitting at the kitchen bench of her parents' house in Kewarra Beach.
She was clocking laps of Marlin Coast Swimming Pool less than an hour before and still wears her red swimsuit under a pink top.
The 34-year-old has the sinewy, streamlined physique of someone designed to find the world's slipstreams.
She wasn't born to flounder in turbulence like the rest of us.
Born in England, raised in Cairns and now based in the US, Cave represents Great Britain and Wales on the world stage.
But her international allegiances haven't diluted her ties to the Far North. The link remains strong, and not just because her parents, Gordon and Joyce, live here.
The relationship goes deeper than a postcode.
Cave retains a local's awareness. She knows the stuff not in backpacker brochures and on tourism websites.
Cave can describe what a mongrel run the Red Arrow is on a humid day.
She can tell you the temperature of Lake Placid on a frigid morning or how demoralising the steepness of Lake Morris Road is for a cyclist.
Cairns is part of her DNA. It's where she raced her first triathlon as a teenager and took the first steps towards reaching the sport's pinnacle.
Winning the Ironman World Championship entitles Cave to a lifetime of respect.
It will become an honorific, like a knighthood or OAM, that will be forever attached to her identity.
But Kona also exists outside the triathlon bubble.
It has an appeal that stretches beyond the endurance community.
``The awareness people have of Hawaii is a lot bigger than I thought it was," Cave says.
``That's taken me by surprise. I'd won world championships before, but it wasn't until I won Kona that I realised why it's such a big deal.
``I guess being in the sport maybe desensitises you to it.
``But then you win and you have all these people contacting and congratulating you, like Jenson Button .
``I'm like, `Wow, you're a Formula One world champion driver and you're in awe of me'. Stuff like that is amazing. It's a nice recognition you get from all walks of life.
``The respect you get from winning is the biggest bonus.
``It's not like winning a normal triathlon.
``When you win in Kona, it's on a different scale.''
But Cave isn't content with being a one-time champion.
Winning Kona is a scientific endeavour as much as it is an athletic one.
There's a formula to it but not one that can be written down and passed along.
Each triathlete is a unique confluence of strengths and weaknesses.
It often takes years to discover the optimal routine that will brew a perfect performance for a given day.
But even then there are no guarantees. Ironman is not that type of sport.
It's fickle and doesn't always reward diligence and dedication the way it should.
Sometimes triathletes have bad days when an unknown element of their preparation goes wrong.
Cave has experienced that before. She's walked across the finish line at Kona in the past feeling dehydrated and dejected, wondering what the hell just happened.
But after last year, Kona doesn't appear as daunting. Some of the mystique has been stripped way.
The race will always be a puzzle, but, for Cave at least, it's one that has a solution.
``I've been doing this for so long, but I think I finally figured out in 2012 how to race the ironman,'' Cave says.
``Now I feel like I've figured it out, I think I can repeat it. I can try to become more and more successful. I think I've figured out all the little tweaks of my body and all the pacing and that type of stuff.
``I feel some people get it straight off the bat, but it's been a big learning curve for me.
``But now I feel I've come to grips with it at last.''
While Kona will remain her focus this year, Cave plans to represent Wales in triathlon at next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Cave raced at the 2002 Manchester Games, finishing second in the Olympic distance (1.5km/40km/10km) event.
While she's a different athlete now and more conditioned to the demands of ironman, Cave still incorporates a few Olympic distance races into her season every year. If everything goes to plan in Glasgow, Cave will weigh up whether to try to represent Great Britain at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
``I'll never stop doing ironman. It's what I owe my living to,'' Cave says.
``But I like to do some Olympic distance races anyway.
``I think it's good to do that type of speed stuff within your training for an ironman.
``I think next year racing at the Commonwealth Games will be a really good indication of whether I can do that type of racing again. It's a very aggressive style of racing, and I think I'm a little bit more humble these days.
``I don't really want to be an aggressive athlete.
``I kind of like being in my own space and own little bubble when I race. I can do that with ironman.
``You can't do that so much with Olympic distance, but I think I can handle it still.
``I haven't completely lost my speed.
``I feel like I'm a stronger all-round athlete than what I used to be.
``I think experience speaks for a lot, and I have a lot of that now because I've been doing it so long.''
But as much as she loves triathlon and is grateful for the life it has provided her, Cave is also comfortable with the fact she will have to one day leave it behind.
``I think there is more to life,'' Cave says.
``Particularly when it comes to family and having kids.
``Realistically, if I want to (have children) I have to stop at some point.
``Before that clock ticks over, so to speak.
``I've been doing this for such a long time now.
``It wasn't something that at school or uni I thought I'd be doing as a fulltime job for the next 12 to 13 years.
``But that's the way it's worked out.''
LONGER WAIT TO SEE CHAMPION IN ACTION
FAR North triathlon fans will have to wait a little longer before they see world ironman women's champion Leanda Cave race in Cairns.
Cave was looking at competing in Ironman 70.3 Cairns (1.9km swim/90km cycle/21.1km run) on June 9 this year but pulled out after signing a new bike sponsorship deal which made her re-evaluate her schedule.
``The bike company is huge in Europe but not really known anywhere else,''Cave said.
``So part of my contract is that I race in Europe. They particularly want me to race in Roth (Germany), which is around the same time as Cairns.
``That makes it really difficult to come all the way back here.''
Cave, who is based in the US, said limiting her international travel last year was a big factor in her success at the Ironman World Championship in Kona.
``I found last year and the year before that not travelling so much helped with my preparation for Kona,'' she said.
``It's important to have a really solid training block leading up to it. If I interrupt that too much with travelling it becomes really detrimental.
``It's a tough call, but I have to make certain sacrifices and not racing here is one them.''
Cave remains hopeful of competing in Cairns in the future. The half ironman - at which she also became world champion last year - shapes as the likeliest event.
``The full ironman would be a bit much with all the travelling involved,'' Cave said. ``But the half is much more realistic.''
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