FOR Bulli’s Beau Wheeler, claiming a Nutri-Grain Ironman series victory at North Wollongong Beach would be something akin to claiming an Australian title.
Wheeler spent countless hours patrolling North Gong beach before shifting north to pursue his surf lifesaving career. He’ll wear the cap of Burleigh Heads Mowbray Park on Saturday but he insists round three of the series is very much a homecoming.
“I moved up [to Burleigh] to pursue my ironman dreams because I wanted to race at the highest level but Bulli’s definitely still home for me,” Wheeler said.
“My family’s all still there and it’s pretty special racing down at home in front of them with all my mates there, my cousin’s handling for me.
“Winning’s a long shot, I’ve never won a race before, but I’m confident I’m fit enough. If I get a bit of luck and I push myself as hard as I can anything can happen.”
Currently sitting 14th in the men’s series rankings, Wheeler got a lesson in that fact over the opening two rounds, but is confident he can be thereabouts if he can reach the final of the sprint eliminator format.
“In the first round at I was in the front group the whole way around and just missed a wave,” Wheeler said.
“I went south, the other boys went north, it didn’t break where I was and they got it. If I was on that wave I would have gone into the last leg in the front crew but they’re the decisions you make.
“Hopefully I can race well on Saturday, make it through to Sunday and just see what happens from there.”
Wheeler won’t be the only local looking to fire at home, with Warilla SLSC alums Hayden White and Ben Carberry also in action while Kiama’s Ali Day is the current series leader.
The sprint eliminator round could also see title contenders emerge from a tightly clustered women’s field currently led by Umina teenager, and round one winner, Jemma Smith.
Defending champion Harriet Brown heads the chasing pack that includes another young prodigy in Lizzie Welborn who’s the midst of her third series at just 18.
The North Bondi star is part of an exciting young crop – including round two winner Brielle Cooper – throwing down the gauntlet to the established stars.
“The women’s field has been impeccable and there’s no one person who’s stood out because the field’s been so good,” Welborn said.
“It’s exciting because you just never know who’ll come out and win the next round. Harriet’s the defending champion and has won so much in the past couple of years so she’s probably the one everyone looks at and there’s people like Courtney Hancock who’s been in the series for a long time.
“As one of the younger crew coming up it puts a bit of fire in the belly to try and replicate results like my friends Jemma and Brielle have because I’ve been racing against them for years now.
“We’ve gone through this whole process together so it’s great to see them do so well and it motivates me to prove what I can do as well.”