In the face of many obstacles, a never-give-up attitude prevails for triathlete Sally Wallace.
A run in the morning, a day of client visits, and joining her triathlon-training group in the evening are all in a day’s work for Australian Unity’s Sally Wallace.
Sally, a Community Engagement Representative at Australian Unity, represented Australia in the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships in Mexico last year.
“My coach always says to me, ‘don’t start trying to do the bike leg before you’ve finished the swim leg’ and ‘don’t think about the run leg while you’re still on the bike’,” Sally says.
For Sally, 66, who is vision impaired, this mantra also applies to her busy life. She often travels for work, trains for triathlons around her full-time schedule and visits her children and grandchildren when she has days to spare.
Sally grew up near Canowindra before heading to the University of New South Wales in Sydney to study a Bachelor of Applied Sciences.
“This was in the early 1970s; the days when some jobs were viewed as being only for men,” Sally says.
Sally couldn’t get a job that utilised her degree, so she went into secretarial work before retraining as a nurse when she was 25. Her nursing career took her through the hospital system, aged care and community nursing.
Sally is legally blind in one eye and vision impaired in the other. When her sight deteriorated and she was unable to continue working as a nurse, she became a Home Care Service Coordinator.
Sally now works with Australian Unity to support long-standing Home Services clients and carries out face-to-face visits with long-term clients and their families – assessing their goals, the services they receive and helping them understand the options available to them.
“My work now is about supporting people to stay living at home with their families,” she says.
“We review the services our long-term clients have and what their goals and aspirations are. It’s important that clients know their concerns are being heard and addressed.”
Sally works with many clients and often develops close relationships with them.
“I’ve just visited one client, in Coonabarabran, whom I did a field assessment for back in 2011. It was lovely to see where they are now and how they’ve coped,” she says.
Sally has always been an active person and had been a keen long-distance cyclist. But a riding accident in 2008 slowed her down.
“I was hit by a truck while out riding, and I lost all my confidence,” she says. Sally wouldn’t get back on the bike for more than four years. During that time, she also underwent surgery that took her away from work and her mental health suffered. Her weight crept up to 120 kilograms.
At the encouragement of her friends, who were raising money for rheumatoid arthritis, Sally agreed to join a bike-riding tour of Vietnam and Cambodia in 2013.
When Sally got back, she thought, “I want to do something more than just ride my bike.”
Initially her training was swimming at the closest pool – around an hour’s drive away – and running or riding locally when she could. Through hard work and perseverance, Sally returned to her previous weight of 65 kilograms.
She joined her local triathlon club in Cowra and was introduced to a coaching group in Orange. After getting a few sprint triathlons under her belt, it looked as though she might qualify for the World Championships and her training stepped up.
“I trained six days out of seven, usually for between two and three hours,” Sally says.
In addition to fitting training around her work, the 2016 ITU World Championships in Mexico brought other challenges for Sally as she was required to compete with regular athletes.
“Most triathlons are non-draft legal, but this was a draft-legal race (meaning you are allowed to exploit the slipstream of the bike rider in front). Well I can’t draft, because I’ve got no sense of distance.
“I sometimes get a bit wayward in the swim leg trying to sight the swim buoys, especially if they are small or not brightly coloured,” she says.
During the race, a tide surge meant Sally and some of her fellow competitors spent extra time in the water, swimming about 1600 metres instead of the race-length 750 metres. Sally also got stung by a bee and suffered an allergic reaction during the bike leg.
She hit the final run leg thinking, “I’ve come all this way, I’m not stopping now. Even if I walk, I’m going to finish.”
Sally did finish – placing 10th in her age bracket, 65 to 69 years.
It was building endurance and conquering mind over matter that Sally says have been the most important lessons.
“If I retire and have enough time to do the training, I would love to think that I could still get out and do an Ironman at some stage of my life,” she says.
Sally is inspired by other women in sport, including para-triathlete Katie Kelly, her guide Michellie Jones and track cyclist Anna Meares.
“I look back at my school days and it wasn’t ladylike to ride a bike so we didn’t have women’s cycling,” she says. “Whether it be cycling, triathlons, soccer, women’s rugby – there are some incredible women forging their way out there and saying, ‘look at us, we can do this’.”
For Sally, it’s also about learning that things can always be turned around. Her message to others is to get out there and try it and take life one step at a time because you don’t always stay on the course that you thought you were going to stay on.
“Most importantly, don’t try and meet life out there before it comes to meet you,” she says.