Looking back on 30 years of triathlon racing, coaching and commentating, Steve Trew wonders: “what if…?”

Illustration by Peter Greenwood

Illustration by Peter Greenwood

Thirty years ago this weekend – September 17, 1983, to be exact – I was driving up to Liverpool. I was a runner and an ex-swimmer, and I was going to race my first ever triathlon the next day. Well, I thought I was going to do a tri, but, pulling into a motorway service station, my back was so sore that I knew it was pointless to carry on. I wouldn’t be able to race, it hurt so much. So I pulled off of the motorway, turned the car around and never, ever got to race a triathlon…

That’s the way it could so easily have ended. Fortunately for me, it didn’t. I continued to drive, I raced the Big K triathlon and my life was never the same again. Doing that first triathlon actually did change my life. It made me think about where I was going, professionally as well as in sporting terms, and what I wanted to do with my life. Would I be happy doing the same stuff in five or 10 years’ time? To be honest, if I hadn’t raced the Big K, I think it would have been the commencement of a cosy cardigan, warm slippers and a pipe.

But I raced, I loved it and triathlon became a huge part – an integral part – of my existence. It led to all sorts of things: racing at home and abroad, major championships as an athlete, coach, team manager and commentator… It gave me the guts to leave the teaching profession and start my fitness/coaching business. I actually spent the second half of my honeymoon racing the London to Paris team triathlon – that got me a lot of brownie points! It led me to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 – the first triathlon Olympics, of course – and then Athens, Beijing and last year’s London Games. It incorporated the Manchester and Melbourne Commonwealth Games, too.

It gave me friends all over the world, too. Friends who happen to be household names in triathlon but, far more importantly, are just great friends. Name-drop time now commences: Greg Welch, Chrissie [Wellington], Dibs [Julie Dibens], Jenx [Marc Jenkins], Helen [Jenkins], Jodie Stimpson, Darren Smith, Chris Jones, Spencer [Smith], Sian Brice, Simon Whitfield and many, many more. Apologies for missed-mention no-names!

It even got me on TV (gasp!). The first time was back in 1984 when the triathlon world really was young. Wings, wheels and water, I believe the show was called. I appeared with 1976 Olympic Games breaststroke gold medalist Dave Wilkie, who (I hope) won’t mind me reminding him about his running skills! It featured the Milton Keynes triathlon from that year. The first British triathlon on TV? Probably. And TV now? Wow! The BBC has covered every single WTS race this year, providing full coverage on the red button and highlights as well. The world really has changed.

And what really gets me, what really makes me look at myself – me, the kid from Tottenham – is that all this stuff – the TV; the commentaries; the travelling; the races; the coaching; the sun in Italy and Bermuda and Mexico, among many others; the meeting great people from all over the world – is that it wouldn’t have happened if I’d listened to my aching body and turned around at that motorway service station.

I even rit sum boox. So, I make a living talking and writing? My junior school reports certainly didn’t indicate that would happen. Life really does hang on triggers and hooks, doesn’t it? Open this door or that one. Choose this direction or a different way. And if you had chosen a different direction? You’ll never know.

I’ve had the best time, I truly have. When I tell friends I haven’t had a proper job for 25 years they laugh at me. Sure, I work hard. I attempt to give the absolute best value that I can, whether it’s running my corporate fitness centre, coaching athletes, commentating or talking about stress and balanced lifestyles. You see, it’s not work, not really. It’s what I like – make that love – doing. When your hobby becomes your job, that can be a pretty good place to be in.

That other life that I didn’t live? Well, I’ll never know now, will I? Early retirement, pub at lunchtime, falling asleep in the afternoon in front of the TV, wearing that old cardie and slippers with the pipe smoke drifting upwards… Maybe, maybe not. Thank you, triathlon. Thank you, the friends I’ve made. Thank you, for this life. Carpe diem, guys. Carpe every single one.