If there was a perfect time to retire from top-tier triathlon racing, Non Stanford may have found it. The 2013 World Champion closed one chapter of her life and opened another at the end of 2022, making the switch to coaching just months after winning the European Championships Munich and having steered Wales to Commonwealth Games Mixed Relay silver in the city where it all began for her, Birmingham.
World Triathlon caught up with Non pre-season in Portugal, to hear about how she made the switch from the blue carpet and navigating life on the other side of the stopwatch.
“I started my triathlon career in Birmingham, studying there as a student. So it was definitely full circle to go back to Birmingham, race the Commonwealth Games, represent Wales and get that medal. That was kind of perfect and the Europeans were just the icing on the cake. I didn’t go into that race thinking I could win so it was kind of a dream come true to walk away with the gold medal. That just seemed like the perfect opportunity to be like, ‘thank you very much’ and leave with my head held high.”
Non Stanford’s first posting as one of the female members of British Triathlon’s High Performance coaching team was to Monte Gordo in February. It was there that the likes of Georgia Taylor-Brown and Samuel Dickinson were prepping for a huge year ahead, with Paris 2024 coming up fast and the first qualification period closing out in May.
“I sort of knew that I was probably gonna sort of come to the end of my career in 2022 and the job for the assistant coach at Leeds Triathlon Centre through British Triathlon came up. So I thought I’d apply and see how it goes. It was my first ever job interview, so it was very scary, and with a panel of people I knew obviously. I guess my passion for coaching comes from just wanting to give back to the sport. I’m so lucky that I’ve had so many great opportunities through being involved in triathlon and I just want to give that back and help others realise their dreams.”
Breaking into the elite circuit back in 2010, Non may not have felt the immediate need for more female figures around her in those formative years of her career, but she is in no doubt about what she can bring to the high-performance table for those athletes breaking through themselves over the coming years.
“Female coaches are definitely outnumbered by male – I’m in the minority, but that’s fine. I never really grew up thinking I needed a female coach, but I do think it is great to have them around, I think it’s definitely an added value, especially for the female athletes. I think there’s a better understanding of what it’s like to be a female athlete, and hopefully that’s what I can bring to the role – real-life experience of being an elite female athlete.”
Then there are the relationships and bonds that were forged on the circuit with those athletes she now has to coach and look after. Are there times it has been hard to be in charge of the sessions she once took part in?
“I definitely don’t tell Georgia what to do, she tells me what to do – that definitely hasn’t changed! But yeah, it’s going to be a tricky dynamic and a big adjustment for everybody really, I’m coaching a squad that I was in until a few months ago and it’s an adjustment for me to sort of flip onto the other side and have that different responsibility now and a different role. And it’s a big adjustment for the athletes as well to get used to seeing me on poolside or seeing me track side and not actually training with them.”