Soraya Merrylees Athlete Ambassador
Soraya was born in Brazil and has since raced all over the world. She talks to Sundried about life as a triathlete and her ambition to race her first full distance Ironman.
Have you always been into sport?
Yes. I grew up in Brazil where sport was in integral part of my life. After school I usually had 1-2 activities a day (swimming, volleyball, football, gymnastics, tennis, ballet). When I moved to Paris, I took up ballet quite intensively (15 hours a week) as well as skiing and ski jumping (we would go every weekend and I joined the local sports club).
What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?
In 2015, I hurt my knee skiing (doing silly things of course!) and had to take 6 months off doing any sports - it was devastating! When I got better the doctor suggested avoiding dancing because of the rotation of the knee in 5th position. He said I was clear to swim, bike and run - and so my journey into triathlon began!
For me, the beauty of triathlon is the community it creates and the support and respect athletes have for one another. I have never been to a race that lacks this energy. You support everyone, from the fastest to the slowest, from the oldest to the youngest. When I went to support my husband (very recent boyfriend at the time) for his Ironman, the energy was so uplifting that I found myself being jealous of all the people competing - even though I had never run more than 5km in my life, let alone ridden a bike with cleats.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
This is a really tough question. I think there is no race that I didn't enjoy, even the ones where I performed terribly because they all taught me something for my next race. If I have to pick, it would be my first triathlon because it was the turning point for me. It was a small sprint race at Bowood House in England. I showed up completely unprepared and untrained. I had no wetsuit (I was the only one without one), had never swum in open water before, had a very average hybrid bike, and forgot my running shoes on the day so had to go buy a terrible cheap pair nearby. Recipe for disaster! But I had the best time ever and decided there and then to sign up for a 70.3 6 months later - the following week I bought my racing bike and started training. I have never looked back.
And your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement is to have taken the leap and quit my corporate career to pursue my passion in sports. I earn a small fraction of what I could be earning now and I work much much harder, but I wake up in the morning with a smile on my face. It has helped me grow as a person - I went from being this shy person that couldn't even give small presentations at work because I got so nervous to a much more outgoing person able to teach a spin class to 55 people without feeling nervous (it was quite a journey though, I nearly died when I gave my first spin class!)
Have you ever had any racing disasters / your toughest race yet?
I wouldn't say I have had any big racing disasters, except for a half marathon in Bath in August 2017. I felt my hip tightening, but because I was doing well and feeling great, I was so determined to get a PB. So I ignored my hip to the point where it was so painful that I had to run/walk the last 5km. This taught me a very important lesson - always listen to your body. If I had stopped, I wouldn't have had to take such a long time off running - over a year later I still have to be really careful and have just about got my running back to where it was. I lost a year because I was too stubborn to stop!
I would say the toughest race I've done though is Ironman 70.3 Dun Laoghaire in Ireland. The sea was so cold and choppy, the bike was hilly, windy (I'm not even joking, even going downhill felt like an uphill), and by the time I got to the run, my legs were gone. I really had to dig deep for this one - also psychologically because I was so far off my goal it was hard not to be disappointed.
How do you overcome setbacks?
Everyone has setbacks and unfortunately it is part of the sport. I always look back to what I have achieved so far and it really puts things in perspective for me. Remaining positive with a can-do attitude is so important.
What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?
Honestly, I don't think there is one single piece of advice. I think the beauty of the sport is to learn as you go - and you learn so much about yourself. What works for one person won't work for someone else, so it's all about experimenting. Of course, there are a few practical tips that could have helped - e.g. don't take your cap and goggles off your head before getting to your bike so your hands are free to undo your wetsuit.
What are your goals for 2019?
I have signed up to Ironman Austria in July 2019 - it is my first full distance Ironman so I have no time goal, but I have set myself the challenge to keep running no matter what (no walking!). Let's see if I manage!
Who do you take your inspiration from?
I wouldn't say I get inspiration from only one person. Of course, my family all inspire me in different ways. My mum is the most passionate person I know, my dad taught me hard work, my husband is the kindest and most ethical person I know (and smart, with a crazy memory, why is he always right?!) and my brother was the first to follow his dream (I copied him even though he's younger)- he's always known he wanted to become a pilot, and he never compromised even when it took him months to get a job - he persevered like no one I know.
I also feel very inspired by para-triathletes. They are the PERFECT example of how you take something that isn't ideal (their handicap) and turn it into something great. Talk about overcoming setbacks. Every single one of them is my hero.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
I love the values of Sundried - being responsible both environmentally and ethically when producing the goods. I also love the simplicity of the designs.