Joe Collins runs out of the water during the Nutri-Grain Ironman series. Photo / Getty
Sacrifices are starting to pay off for Joe Collins as the Taranaki teenager makes waves in Australia.
Collins, the son of former Waikato prop turned Chiefs chief executive Michael, finished third in the recently-completed Nutri-Grain Ironman series, the best ever placing by a rookie on the circuit.
While the New Zealand national surf life-saving championships, scheduled to be held in Ōhope, were cancelled due to Covid restrictions this week, Collins is charting a path for fellow Kiwis to challenge Australians at their own game.
“We’re always trying to take down the Aussies,” the 18-year-old says with a chuckle from his adopted Gold Coast base.
Rather than follow his father’s footsteps Collins, the former New Plymouth Boys High student, learnt his craft at the Fitzroy surf life-saving club from a young age.
“When I was younger I played a bit of footy but I was definitely better at surf life-saving than rugby.”
Collins’ progression in the sport has always been swift, winning the under-14 junior nationals and following that up by taking out the under-16 Ironman.
Realising he had a future in the sport Collins began travelling to Australia for two-to-three-week training blocks, with an eye to eventually cracking the intensely competitive Ironman series circuit which involves swim, ski and board events in any order.
One year ago Collins made the leap of faith to fully commit to his dream, moving to Australia permanently to join BMD Northcliffe, a club which features fellow Kiwis Cory Taylor, Danielle McKenzie, Olivia Corrin and head coach Kevin Morrison.
Initially at least, shifting from home comforts and into the club’s hostel proved eye-opening. Juggling up to 19 gruelling training sessions per week, while working towards a commerce and finance degree, added to the taxing challenge.
“It was pretty intense coming into that situation. It was pretty daunting for a 17-year-old kid to move out of home and have to cook and clean for myself. It was pretty rough at first doing all the training and university but once I got the hang of things it got a lot easier and mum and dad were always there to support me.”
Training and competing alongside Taylor, the four-time New Zealand national champion and Collins’ idol growing up, helped fast-track his success. In the latest Ironman series Collins pipped Taylor by three points for third place overall – a podium finish in round two hinting at his potential.
“He was always a massive guide and mentor for me – and still is. It’s a good group to be a part of. Everyone is so supportive of each other. I definitely wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Like budgie smugglers and stubby coolers, the six-round Ironman series is embedded in Australian culture. Starting out his debut season as an outsider, Collins merely hoped to break onto the scene.
“You definitely notice the difference they’ve had from a young age of training in such high-pressure environments. To race them and do well it’s massive for the Kiwis over here. There’s always an unspoken bond between the other Kiwis racing – just because of how well we do together.
“It is challenging at first, you might have a couple of sponsors but nothing too major. Until you get your name out there in the series that’s when sponsors and funding comes in. You have to work and train to get into a position where you can rely on it.
“I had a talk with my coach and we were more looking to go in with the right intensity and trying to make as little mistakes as possible. To come away with third, when I wasn’t really expecting top 10, it’s massive for me.”
The Australian nationals in April and Queensland state events in March are next on the agenda, before Collins carries his same hunger into the Ironman series from December to February.
“It’s going to take a lot more training and experience to reach the top guy, Ali Day, who dominated the series in Kingscliff this weekend, but I should get there in time.”