Aussie A-lister talks about his triathlon roots, toughest race, new role as Fitness First Corporate Triathlon ambassador and life in Tinseltown

Australian actor Daniel MacPherson named Fitness First Corporate Triathlon ambassador [photo: Chris McKeen | Newspix]

It may be hard to believe that recently-turned 34-year-old Australian actor, television host and star of stage and screen, Daniel MacPherson, has been involved in the competitive triathlon scene for more than 20 years.

In fact, MacPherson, who celebrated a birthday on April 25, was literally “discovered” while competing in a local triathlon in New South Wales and told TriRadar he has “so much to be thankful for from this sport.”

The former Neighbours star has gone on to play numerous roles since his big break in 1997, including the British police drama The Bill, and Australian hit series City Homicide and Wild Boys, as well as the hosting The X Factor in 2005.

MacPherson, who is currently hosting Australia’s Dancing with the Stars, says fitness is a way of life and was recently named as the face and voice of the Australian Fitness First Corporate Triathlon Series, which runs five mini-sprints (300m swim / 8km bike / 3km run) across the nation’s five capital cities starting with Melbourne back in March and culminating on the Gold Coast on May 3.

Teams of three have the choice of individual or relay options, with MacPherson having competed with the Fitness First All-Stars in Sydney on April 13.

“Daniel’s commitment not only to the sport but to leading a healthy and active life made him the perfect candidate for the role of Fitness First Ambassador for the Fitness First Corporate Triathlon National Series 2014,” said Anthony McDonough, Marketing Director at Fitness First Australia.

“At Fitness First we are committed to helping our members go further in life and encouraging people, whether they are a seasoned athlete or an amateur preparing for their first ever triathlon, to challenge themselves.

“Daniel is someone who embodies this commitment and is constantly challenging himself whether it be as an actor or as a triathlete competing on the world stage.”

In his competitive career, MacPherson has competed in six Ironman races as well as competed in world championships across three distances: Olympic, Half Ironman and Ironman.

After wrapping up production in Sydney for his new sci-fi thriller Infini, MacPherson has returned to his US-based home in Los Angeles and sat down with TriRadar on Thursday to discuss his love of triathlon, his role as an ambassador for the sport, comparisons between triathlon and acting, and what’s next for one of Australia’s favourite sons.

TriRadar: One minute you’re in Sydney, the next minute you’re in Los Angeles. Busy schedule?

Daniel MacPherson: Ha, yes you could say that. I was in Sydney yesterday and literally just landed in LA today. Funny story, I bumped into pro triathlete Laura Siddall (GBR) who has been living in Australia the past few years and she was on my flight as she is moving to the US to pursue her pro career. [Paralympian] John Maclean was on our flight as well so there was a lot of tri talk.

When did you first discover the sport of triathlon?

I discovered triathlon in 1991 when my rugby coach, a guy by the name of John Holt, started the Kurnell Triathlon Series, which still exists today. My dad signed up to do the adult’s race and I signed up as an 11-year-old rugby player to do the kid’s race and it just sort of started from there.

I was just thinking before our chat, that I have so much to be thankful for from the sport, as it has given me some of the most amazing experiences of my life and some of the greatest friendships. What triathlon has taught me has sort of spanned across my career as well as my personal life.

Speaking of your career, how did you break into acting?

It was triathlon that actually led me to acting as I met my first acting manager at a triathlon in Kurnell (1997), and that’s how I got my first gig on Neighbours (1998).

You mentioned learning lessons, can you elaborate?

Like setting goals and committing to them, and that’s something you kind of have to do if you ever want to succeed in this sport. You have to stay consistent and work hard, so I guess the discipline and work ethic that triathlon teaches you if you want to be successful is something that I very much use in my career as an actor.

Triathletes are an obsessive bunch and we really try to control everything, but I think one lesson – particularly in distance racing – is that there is just so much out here that can go wrong that you simply can’t sweat the small stuff.

So you don’t sweat the small stuff when racing?

Because I’ve been doing it 23 years now I’m pretty relaxed when it comes to a lot of things, that’s what I love about the Fitness First Corporate Triathlon as you see all the nerves from the first-timers, like ‘Does my wetsuit fit? Do I have enough air in my tyres? Do I have enough calories?’, all that stuff you get relaxed about with experience.

Daniel MacPherson completing a 10:54 3km run in the Fitness First Corporate Triathlon in Sydney on April 13, 2014 [photo: Chris McKeen | Newspix]

How did you get involved with the Fitness First Corporate Triathlon series?

I have actually been involved in the corporate triathlon series for a few years, as Channel 7 have always been big supporters of the event, so I was pretty familiar with the race format and this year they invited me to come on board as an ambassador.

Were you a member of Fitness First prior?

Ha, yes I actually was, and I am really excited that they have gotten involved with the sport and they are actively encouraging people with pretty much non-triathlon backgrounds to sort of look at expanding their horizons into the sport.

At one point this year you were filming six-days a week in Sydney for the movie, then flying to Melbourne on your one day off to film Dancing with the Stars, all while continuing your triathlon training. How do you manage to balance it all?

To be honest, it was a real struggle. During that five-month period, I pretty much used all the discipline, know-how and mental strength I have learned from triathlon to stay focused.

How important is health and fitness for you, personally?

Health and fitness is part of my DNA. I am a much better person when I’m training. It’s part of who I am and I often use triathlon training to centre myself.

Do you do anything special with your nutrition?

My partner Zoe [Ventoura] and I don’t eat meat other than fish. Our diet consists largely of fish, eggs and lots of veggies. We are currently following Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar’ philosophy and find her new book I Quit Sugar for Life really helpful as it has lots of great recipes to keep it interesting.

What’s harder, filming a movie or completing an Ironman?

That’s a great question. I reckon they are similar in a lot of ways, but would you believe that an Ironman is just shorter? The process of making Infini was nearly five months start to finish, and was just as challenging physically, mentally and emotionally. I wasn’t just sitting in my trailer getting feed amazing food, being pampered and doing an hour’s work.

I was living on set in a small room because I didn’t have time to commute. I had a single mattress, a set of free weights and a coffee machine. I was getting up at 5am every morning to do half an hour of weights and cardio before getting to makeup for prosthetics by 6am.

We would wrap at 8pm, have a production meeting for the next day and if I wasn’t too exhausted I’d go for a run for 20-30 minutes to clear my head before prepping for the next day. On the day we were not filming I was on a 6am flight to Melbourne to film Dancing with the Stars.

So to answer the question?

Okay, so to answer the question, I think while making the movie will ultimately be very rewarding, I reckon an Ironman may be more enjoyable. But like an Ironman, once you see the medal – or in this case the finished film – you forget the pain and hard work.

Do you have a favourite triathlon experience?

Ironman China (2009) was a great time for me even though I ran a near five-hour marathon. It was 45C that day, and it was the most brutal event I have ever done. I managed to gut it out and win my age group considering I went 11 hours and 1 minute, and ran a 4.50 marathon. That was the day I qualified for Kona.

I learned a valuable lesson that day, in that you can get so focused on the destination or goal that you forget to enjoy the journey. For me one of the greatest things whenever I commit to an Ironman or acting gig, is that it’s as much about the journey as it is about the event – like the people you get to spend time with in the journey getting there.

Do any of your friends think you’re nuts for juggling so much, and adding triathlon to an already crazy schedule?

To be honest, everyone is just kind of coming around. I just turned 34 last week and maybe it’s that time in my generation where all my friends are like ‘Hey man, suddenly I’m not as skinny as I used to be’ or ‘My girlfriend wants me to get in shape’ or ‘I’m sick of going to the pub six nights a week, so maybe I’ll try that sport you’ve been doing for 20 years.’

So I think everyone is starting to realise what a great lifestyle it is, too.

Any of your celebrity friends jumping on board?

A lot of people from other sports are coming up to me and looking for some advice on how to get started in triathlon, like former Australian Rugby League player Ben Ross. My Infini co-star, Luke Hemsworth, who lives in Santa Monica just right across the road from me, came up to the me the other day and said, ‘Like, just hypothetically, when is the Malibu Triathlon, and are you signed up for it?’

So just what is next for Daniel MacPherson triathlon-wise?

I have just signed up for Challenge Roth in July, so it’s keeping me motivated in my training, plus it’s a ‘bucket list’ race. To go from a 31-minute mini-sprint in April to a full iron-distance race in 16 weeks will be an interesting experiment.

How will you prepare for such a drastic step up in such a short period?

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many great coaches and have received advice from some of the world’s best professional triathletes, but I have actually gone back to my first junior coach, who is one of my best mates, Eric Hunter.

Eric was the Australian national triathlon coach back in the 1990s, and he and I have about 13 weeks of training to get me to the start line. I’ve got a solid fitness base and no real injuries, so we are going to experiment on some new stuff and see how it goes. I’m excited.

Any pressure to do well with such short preparation time?

No, there’s not the pressure I would normally try and put on myself to try and say qualify for Kona or win my age group. I have watched this race for so many years and having a great time with great friends in Europe is the experience and journey I am talking about.

Is another crack at Kona down the track?

My competitive days are far from over, but my criteria for choosing a race is more about experience and lifestyle, as it is about competing. In 2009, I was on track for a 9:45 Kona, but finished in 10 hours and 31 minutes when the last 15km undid me – as it does for most athletes in an Ironman. So I have unfinished business there and would love to crack a sub-10 and to do that I need to get my marathon under three hours. I would like to walk away from Kona knowing that I had a good day there.

And finally, career-wise?

It’s an exciting time at the moment. I would like to continue making movies, as it is the probably the closest thing I have found to racing Ironman in my profession. I am looking to move into producing some of my own television and film projects and would like to explore more opportunities in health and fitness, and Fitness First gives me the perfect platform to do just that.

Daniel MacPherson training at Fitness First for in preparation for the Fitness First Corporate Triathlon in Sydney, April 13 [photo: Chris McKeen | Newspix]