Meet the World-Class Para-triathlete and Teacher Who Took Up the Sport During Lockdown
Looking for a new hobby to keep himself busy during lockdown, Mike Salisbury decided to follow his friends’ lead and try out triathlon. Little did he know that in just two years he would find himself representing GBR on the world paratriathlon circuit
‘The Swansea race is a really big one because it’s a World Series event and there’s only three a year, and it’s also a home event,’ Mike explains. ‘I trained hard in the lead up and then in the final week before the race it was all about getting ready, easing things down and getting in the right mindset.
‘The big goal for this season is qualifying for the Championship Final, which is in November in Abu Dhabi. What goes into that is a good result in Swansea, and then again in Portugal in September. I’m really looking to improve my ranking and get selected for the final.’
However, while his sights are currently set on the Championship Final, Mike is still a relative newcomer to the sport and never planned to get this far with what essentially started as a hobby during lockdown. Used to an active lifestyle, ranging from surfing with friends to spending his summers travelling to far off countries as a World Challenge expedition leader, when Covid hit Mike found himself with too much time and not enough to do.
‘In terms of triathlon, I didn’t get into it until 2020 and it was by chance really as a result of the pandemic and lockdown,’ he says. ‘A couple of friends of mine got into triathlon and started to take part in events, so I kind of had my arm twisted into signing up for some too. I wasn’t really sure about it to begin with but I really enjoyed having something new to get involved in, as well as the process of training and working towards a goal. So that was the start, and I found I really enjoyed it.’
Not only does Mike enjoy the sport, it turns out he’s also extremely good at it. When looking for different events to take part in, Mike came across a campaign on the British Triathlon website looking for anyone who wanted to get involved in triathlon, in particular para-triathlon. Born with a congenital shortening of the left arm, Mike decided to get in touch and was asked to do time trials so they could get an idea of what kind of standard he was at.
Sending over his times for a 3km run, 10km bike ride and 400m swim, the British Triathlon team were so impressed with his results they invited Mike to take part in a race in Llanelli in Wales, which is where his journey truly began.
‘I ended up winning the British Championships in 2021,’ he explains. ‘I’d made quite a lot of progress since Llanelli so I started to get my head round a bit more of the finer detail of how to make yourself a bit quicker in the three sports – how you do transitions, how you can be a bit slicker. It’s one thing to get a quick run time just on its own, but doing that after you’ve been swimming and cycling makes that even harder so I think I surprised myself in terms of how much progress I’ve made year-on-year.’
Following his success, Mike was put onto the British Triathlon pathway and entered his first International competition in October 2021. From there he moved up a step onto what’s known as Next Generation. ‘It’s quite funny to be next generation considering that I’m now quite old. I didn’t really expect that to happen, I kind of thought I was a bit old, kind of at my maximum, not gonna get much better, but it’s interesting when you take a bit of a longer-term view, how much just doing the training week in week out and being consistent works,’ he explains.
‘You look back on the year and see how much progress you’ve made and that’s surprising in some ways, but also quite rewarding, and that’s been a really enjoyable part of this journey. Also, being a teacher, it’s a reminder of all the things that I tell students such as “you’ve just got to keep working at it. You’ve got to put the work in and eventually the results will come”.’
Mike’s says that Dame Allans Schools (where he is a geography teacher and Head of Sixth Form) have been a great and supportive employer as he balances work with his busy training schedule. But how does he fit it all in?
‘It involves setting your alarm for times that you really don’t want to set your alarm for, just to make sure that you can get a good quality session in before work. You’re looking at two training sessions per day, one before work and one after work and that’s okay to fit in most of the time, but then sometimes you’ve got things on that mean that you’re restricted so you have to be a bit flexible in terms of planning ahead.
‘The fact is you have to train, so you just have to work out how. In some ways, the harder thing is getting enough rest in because if you’re not properly resting and recovering, then that means you might not actually be making the progress that you should be.’
In terms of training, Mike says he has a favourite of the three disciplines, however it is the two he favours least where he finds the biggest sense of achievement. ‘My route into triathlon was mainly from running,’ he explains. ‘I was quite good, so I probably enjoy the running training the most because I’m most comfortable with it, it’s the one that I know I’m the best at when it comes to a race and that’s my strongest discipline.
‘On the other hand, the barrier to getting involved in triathlon for me was definitely swimming. But since training for the three of them, I’ve really enjoyed learning how to swim and the challenge of that. It’s been a slow process but there’s lots to think about in terms of technique and then when you make those improvements it’s quite gratifying to see that your time is coming down. Similarly, for the bike there’s a bit more to it than I initially thought so I’ve learned quite a bit about cycling training and good positions to be on the bike, so that the effort you put in gets you further faster, and that sort of thing.’