When there’s a wheel, there’s a way’ is a column featuring your next door folk balancing their athletic pursuits and their everyday life. Brought to you by Bikes n Bites.

A string of victories at the Metasprint and Trifactor series looked to be a solid confidence booster for Nicholas Rachmadi ahead of the Youth Olympic Games qualifiers in Subic Bay. The inclement weather changed the triathlon to a duathlon, and the swimmer turned triathlete didn’t make the cut to go to the Games.

In August, Rachmadi was accepted into the ITU Junior World Triathlon Championships, a possible chance at redemption on the international stage. Things did not go according to plan and he finished last.

Then at last month’s Singapore International Triathlon, Rachmadi finished first in the National Triathlon Championship sprint with a timing of 1 hour 4 minutes 11 seconds. His 2018 season could not be any different from a rollercoaster ride.

ITU Junior World Triathlon Championships Grand Final

Rachmadi failed to qualify for YOG back in June when the race was changed to a duathlon because of risky water conditions. When he got news in August that his entry for the junior world championship was accepted, he couldn’t help but feel a renewed sense of excitement.

“I feel honoured to be selected (for this prestigious race),” said Rachmadi, 16.

For six weeks, he religiously executed a bike-specific training plan devised by his Australian coach Mick Delamotte. Max out sets of 5-10 seconds, affectionately known as “death sets,” were a weekly feature in his program. Delamotte derived those sets based on the flat course that boasted eight to nine turns per lap, along with the high probability that Rachmadi would be in a chase pack. These death sets would be ramped up to twice a week in the leadup to the final.

On race week, Rachmadi was physically ready. Race day turned out drastically different from their expectations.

Within the port that featured the swim course, undercurrent swirled in all directions, making for “messy” waters. The water temperature was 21 degrees, just above what would otherwise be a wetsuit-legal swim.

Rachmadi went for a run and swim warm up, which proved to be a bad move on hindsight. Toeing the start line, he found himself shivering and standing next to guys a head taller than him, a situation that could not be more nerve-wracking. Although one of his “process goals” was to remain confident, in truth, he felt uncertain and did not know what to expect.

Before he could re-focus, the race started.

After the usual outright sprint typical of swim starts, he found himself in the middle of the pack going into the first buoy. But at the buoy, everything changed.

Rachmadi was kicked, pushed, and dunked repeatedly. He desperately tried to find clear waters to swim in. At that point, his feelings were as mixed as being in the midst of the “human washing machine.” He had never experienced such aggression in any training session or regional race. Momentarily, he lost confidence, fire, and purpose.

Eventually, he would find clear waters, but not the sort he wanted. Out of the swim, he was last, and it felt as if the race was over. He tried his best to bridge the gap between himself and a small pack ahead of him, but he would lose time at T1 and after two loops on the bike, he knew it was beyond him.

Riding alone and wearing national colours, he felt embarrassed. On the run, his legs were on the verge of cramping and he could not open his strides. It was his worst run ever. While racing to finish, he wished he could restart the race.

“It feels like I’ve let the country down. Parents, coaches, and everyone. I can’t accept it. I want another go,” said Rachmadi.

Upon reflection, Rachmadi reckoned that the experience was a turning point for him. It exposed him to the highest and toughest level of racing at his age and made him want to work harder.

Specifically, it ingrained within him the value of being defensive, aggressive, and hungry, lessons that he could never learn from an environment like Singapore’s.

Renewed Drive

Coming home to the National Championships after the brutal overseas experience, he found himself racing against himself, never truly able to practice what he picked up. Just like all other local triathlon races, there was no need for him to be aggressive because he would be alone for most parts of the race. And because of the lack of competition, he did not get to find out what he could truly achieve if he had been hungrier.

Despite these challenges, Rachmadi is not ready to give up.

One of his main motivations is his parents. Since he started his triathlon journey, both have invested plenty. His mom committed to staying back to watch over the house while his dad made time to be with him, travelling with him, getting him sponsors, and making arrangements for his training. Although a lot of his racing has not gone according to plan, their support has never wavered.

At the start of the year, when he first went to Sydney for an overseas training camp, his training load went up abruptly and he the thought of giving up crossed his mind. Likewise, it was the thought of his parents’ sacrifice that kept him going.

At the same time, knowing that his parents will be proud no matter the results makes him want to do more.

“If you really want something, you have to go for it,” he said.

The past season’s lessons serve only to improve on his junior world championship performance as Rachmadi enters the next season armed with a renewed drive and remembering his family’s dedication to his dream.