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Focus Edition, Sports IronMan Focus

By: Wes Berg

By: Wes Berg •  4 years ago •  

Living in Bankstown, Western Sydney, I first joined the Elouera Surf Club at 4 years old. Both my Dad and my eldest brother played football for St George and my sister played for the reserve grade national basketball team, so sport was always part of our life. My Mum had 35 years of nursing and was the eldest of 10, so she ran the house while my Dad was the youngest of 10 with a twin brother, so he had to fight for everything.

When I was very young, my Dad taught me that there is only going to be one winner and life isn’t just about winning. He’d say “Life is about winning the way you’d lose and losing the way you’d win. If you’ve done your best, then you’ve done enough.”

Life is about winning the way you’d lose and losing the way you’d win.

My younger brother died in an accident when I was 8 and my family needed find a place to grieve and recover, so we moved out to Meroo Meadow which is close to Shoalhaven Heads on the South Coast of NSW. It was a huge change to go from a small house in Western Sydney, to a vast, beautiful countryside with cows, pigs and chooks. We raised and ate our own stock and were completely self-sufficient.

That region has a very vast stretch of coastline with a lot of open and wild conditions. Wanting to surf with my mates, my parents insisted I go through Nippers and get my awards and gain confidence in the water. I joined the Shoalhaven Surf Club and met Greg Miller who became my best friend. His mother, Geraldine was my first ever coach. The nucleus at Shoalhaven Heads included myself, Geraldine Miller as coach, Greg Miller and Drew Cancross who both competed in the Ironman series and Lilly Miller, who received the most accolades of our squad with Australian medals. The Millers made such a huge impact on my life that my daughter is named Miller out of respect for all they taught me about life and coaching.

Geraldine Miller was amazing, achieving dux of her school and then dux at New South Wales University; she was the first female Australian surfing coach and first ever female level 3 coach in surf-life saving. She didn’t really swim and had never paddled a board, but I learnt everything I know from Geraldine. At the age of 18-19 she worked with us to set up a training program and by the age of 22 we were running the program with her overseeing it. This included work on the mental state, neurological state, nutrition and actual conditioning, she was an amazing, tough coach.

In 1989 I was training by myself at Shoalhaven Head Beach and I swam through a wave, when I found a shark between my arm and my body. I had a scratch on my ribs from where it had thrashed against my body, so I got out. Geraldine said “Well the shark’s gone now, get back in the water. You tell me, do you want to get first or second?”

Geraldine was so tough, we called her “Killer Miller” and we had a camp called “Camp Kill Yourself” where the sessions were super hard. The first goal of the camp was to get us away from where we normally trained, so we travelled to places like Yamba, Byron bay and Scotts Head. We also got to share the training with the local clubs, inspiring them to lift as they watched how we trained, then joined in. She taught me that “Racing should be performance based rather than results based.” She would be more disappointed if we pulled back on ourselves rather than the results we achieved.

At the end of 1993, I was surfing at Jones Beach, Kiama Downs when I caught a left-hand wave. I got sucked into the fall of the wave and landed on a shallow sandbar, on my board and the fin went cut through the top part of my triceps. I spent the next 6 weeks in Wollongong hospital with my arm over my head, taking different steroid treatments because you cannot stitch muscle. After 6 weeks, the muscle still wasn’t taking, so the doctor came in and gave me a Chinese Burn on my arm. It burst all the blood vessels in the injured area and while the pain was immense, it finally started to mend. My career as an Ironman came from there. I had raced before then but I was always at the back of the pack. My rehab involved paddling in the river and building up the strength in the arm. Two years later I made the Ironman series. Board became my strongest leg.

Working as a conditioning coach with the surfers was a very different world. With Andy Irons, Joel Parkinson and Jack Freestone, I had around 4 million dollars’ worth of athletes in the gym at the same time, I had to protect them from injuries but still get them to surf at their highest capabilities. Certainly a stressful job but an amazing thing to do.

Looking at the difference between ironman and surfing. As an Ironman, you create your environment. The gun goes and you do all you can to get out around the cans. It’s all about teaching people to sit up and breath; to focus on technique and be efficient. Ironmen go through the waves where the surfers use the waves.

As a surfer, you could be the first heat of the morning and be waiting for the conditions and be waiting for two hours. You need a wave and have to score with only a minute thirty to go, then you need to be able to perform under pressure and fatigue. We do a lot of work on visualisation to help prevent emotion overriding their performance.

These days I don’t just about coach surfing and ironman. I also coached Cory Teunissen, who just finished second in the world Wakeboard championships and Mikey Mendoza, a Skateboarding protégé who is probably the best street skater in Australia. Then there is Jonny Durand, who is the world hang-gliding champion who went for two world records last Australia Day. I had to teach him how to swim better and how to get out of his harness in case of a water landing because the boats cannot keep up with him. It’s amazing to come from a small country town to now working with these incredible athletes.

While all these athletes are different, there are some common themes. Number one, you have to get the work done. Number two, you can never want something for them more than what they want. They need to be invested in what they are trying to achieve. The third thing is that the more you can educate them; the more you make yourself redundant, the better. I cannot be everywhere with everyone, so I am trying to pass on what I know.

We create programs where the athletes are involved from the very beginning with the focus on hard work, smart work and mental capacity. Competition is tough and we don’t want them to crumble, so if we can set up a simulation where they can experience decision making under pressure and pain, then when they get there in competition, they have been there before. I put my guys in a lot of positions and taunt them with quotes, sayings and motivational signs, that puts them in the environment that they are going to compete in, so that when they arrive, they relax and just do their thing.

Coaching goes through cycles and is becoming more scientific but at the end of the day, hard work just has to be done. With the AFL and Soccer guys, coaching is being broken down to small groups, where a coach will work with only 5 athletes, so they cannot hide in a squad. Many sports are going from one coach, to assistant coaches, to a bunch of coaches in the AFL and NRL. Nowadays a head coach can focus on the team as a whole but of course, it comes down to funding. We are lucky enough to be a self-funded club and Surf Life Saving Australia is doing a great job engaging younger kids, developing different pathways through all aspects of Surf Life Saving.

I still love competing; crossing the line beating these 23 year olds who fear me and say “why am I still racing, because I am so old.” None of this would have been possible without my wife, Jade. She was one of the highest paid females in the IronWoman series and stopped racing in 2000 because the Uncle Toby’s series folded. She understands what is required and the whole family supports me every step of the way.

BIO – Wes Berg is the Ironman’s Ironman with 20 years of competition under his belt. Originally coached by Geraldine Miller, perhaps the first ever female elite IronMan coach, he has competed with every great IronMan including Trevor Hendy, Dean Mercer, Guy Andrews and Phil Clayton. He coached Joel Parkinson to world champion in 2012 and now coaches the younger IronMan and IronWoman competitors as well as skaters, wakeboarders and hang gliders.

Pullout – Wes is the head coach at Burleigh Heads Mowbray Park Surf Life Saving Club on the Gold Coast working with a squad of 45 athletes ranging from 13 years old to 35 including an open ski squad, board squads, junior squads and iron squads. Wes is completing his last season of competition and is looking forward to the arrival of his third

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