Queen Sally: Illawarra Sportsperson of the Year

Sally Fitzgibbons with her Illawarra Mercury Sportsperson of the Year trophy. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Sally Fitzgibbons with her Illawarra Mercury Sportsperson of the Year trophy. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Even in her downtime, back home in the comfortable surrounds of the NSW South Coast, Sally Fitzgibbons is a limitless bundle of energy.

After again missing out on the world title this year, the 23-year-old freely admits there's a large part of her wishing the next tour would start tomorrow.

The challenge for her has evolved into how to best harness the abundance of internal drive and determination.

Fitzgibbons applies the same intensity to everything in life, whether it be chasing her ultimate surfing goal, improving her golf game while playing a round with ex-Dragons stars Ben Hornby and Wendell Sailor, or pulling off a strike with her last bowl to win the tenpin challenge at the annual family Christmas gathering.

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With her beaming smile and glint in the eye, Fitzgibbons starts another whirlwind year in January, jet-setting to the US for a series of promotional engagements, then a surfing stopover in Hawaii on the way back home, before the tour starts in March.

Even though she finished third overall behind champion Carissa Moore and fellow South Coast surfer Tyler Wright, Fitzgibbons takes plenty away from this year's campaign after finishing with the highest average wave scores.

Fitzgibbons surfing in the tour final in Portugal this year.

Fitzgibbons surfing in the tour final in Portugal this year.

She's inspired by Australian Mick Fanning's ability to seize the moment to claim his third world title at Pipeline.

Fanning's stunning success reinforces the need for Fitzgibbons to peak at the right moments.

"I think consistency is one of the keys to becoming world champion," she tells the Illawarra Mercury.

Sally Fitzgibbons, left, with five-time women’s world tour champion Stephanie Gilmore.

Sally Fitzgibbons, left, with five-time women’s world tour champion Stephanie Gilmore.

"Seeing the likes of Mick Fanning take his title - he was definitely the more consistent surfer.

"It's those little split-hair decisions which went either way; in this case, they went the wrong way for me.

"You step back and think what were the positives, what did I do right and all my wave averages and heat scores, I had the highest averages, so that's a positive.

"It's just those little key moments that need to be Sal moments, instead of my opponent's moment.

"Hopefully the planets align."

After coming tantalisingly close to reaching the top on a women's circuit, which is exploding in popularity and exposure, Fitzgibbons remains eternally confident her day is coming.

Fanning found the barrel rides he needed in the final 90 seconds of his fifth-round heat, and again in the quarter-final, to do enough to snatch the overall crown from 11-time winner Kelly Slater.

"I was up at like 4.30, 5am ready to watch it, it's always crazy when it does come down to that one moment," Fitzgibbons said.

"When they don't go your way, it fuels the fire.

"When the tour finishes, you come away and think about the goal of being world champ and I just want to start right away and have another go.

Fitzgibbons at the Bone Yard in Kiama Downs. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Fitzgibbons at the Bone Yard in Kiama Downs. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

"But I know I've got to step back and use the time wisely to improve and come back a better surfer."

Fitzgibbons' remarkable lifestyle and dedication to her sport have been captured in a biopic called Behind The Smile to be released in February.

It tracks her career, even to far-flung outposts such as Canada's Nova Scotia, surfing in the snow.

Her adventures have taken Fitzgibbons freediving ocean depths and climbing mountainous terrain, as well as developing human movement techniques and progressive manoeuvres in a bid to gain a competitive edge.

Fitzgibbons has become the face of clothing and beauty products, but has put just as much energy into the NSW Police Commissioner's campaign on road safety and against alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour.

Because of her commitment to such causes and blossoming international profile, as well as her brilliant surfing ability, the girl from Gerroa has been named the 2013 Illawarra Sportsperson of the Year, voted on by the Mercury sports team.

"I love doing as many different things as I possibly can; I put as much into [promotional opportunities] as I do into my training.

"If I can use my sport to reach out to people or bring awareness then I will where I have the opportunity.

"It all goes so fast, running around with the training and the extras, sometimes I can't remember what I did a couple of days ago.

"Hopefully more and more doors open for me, with everything from government awareness stuff, and individual brands I've aligned with."

Fitzgibbons edged out a field of outstanding Illawarra sporting candidates, which included football goal-scoring ace Michelle Carney, Commonwealth Games-bound Wollongong-based triathlete Aaron Royle and back-to-back Coolangatta Gold champion Ali Day. Retired dual Olympian basketballer Glen Saville, swimming stars Emma McKeon and Robert Hurley and World Cup-winning St George Illawarra winger Brett Morris were also shortlisted.

But for all of Fitzgibbons' talent - even leaving the door open to try competitive middle-distance running or triathlon - she admits learning to switch off remains a challenge.

"All the stuff I do away from surfing redirects my energy and makes me sharper," she said.

"I come out refreshed when I'm attacking my training.

"But I'm trying to learn to relax.

"It's really important and it's the hardest thing to do when you're at full speed."

"It comes with the experience of knowing your body and your energy levels.

"You need that peace and serenity when you come back home.

"Travelling the world or even ducking into Sydney to do all these other commitments or whatever else I've got on is totally fine - just as long as I can come back home."

Congratulations to Joanna Hunter who won the $200 for voting in the Illawarra Mercury People's Choice Sportsperson of the Year award.

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