“I was a very average swimmer and runner, so my parents figured I should give cycling a go and see how I liked triathlon.”
With her lofty status within the PTO World Rankings and a palmarès packed with championship victories, nobody is calling Holly Lawrence average any more.
Sport has featured strongly in the life of the Los Angeles-based Lawrence from a young age, and growing up in Hammersmith her parents clearly saw promise she didn’t.
At that stage, with Holly born one of triplets, just getting to and from the swimming pool was a logistical challenge for the family.
From her first triathlon aged 16 though, Lawrence found her path. The British Triathlon Super Series provided her with competition and motivation to continue with her sporting ambitions alongside her education.
The University of Swansea, a satellite training centre of the national governing body, added the ideal location alongside her Sports Science studies.
Graduating in 2012, she continued her triathlon ambitions in short course, draft-legal racing. Highly regarded for her strong cycling ability, that format didn’t always play to her strengths.
A European Championship finish of 11th in 2014 was solid, but with great depth of talent in British female triathlon, it was going to be difficult to simply gain a start at World Cup and WTS events.
Her short course-career concluded by representing Wales in the Mixed Relay event at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, before an exciting new chapter would begin.
Coming to America
2015 was a pivotal year for Holly. Shifting her attentions to long-distance, non-drafting racing, she relocated to California. It was a bold move, but she was now free of the tactical nature of the ITU circuit and hopeful of a bright future.
Second (Mont-Tremblant), third (Oceanside), sixth (Raleigh) and an 11th-place debut at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship represented a solid debut season. But 2016 would be her true breakout year.
With another year of specific training done and vital experience gained over the new distance, her 2016 results were spectacular.
After fourth in Oceanside and second at St. George, Holly soon found the winning tape with frequency. Escape from Alcatraz, as well as 70.3’s Vineman and Mont Tremblant, all saw her on the top step of the podium. But the best was still yet to come.
Heading to the Sunshine Coast in Australia, conventional logic was it would be another Daniela Ryf show at that year’s IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. Holly must have missed that memo.
The fastest swim and fastest bike left her with a lead of around five minutes at T2, but with a large group intent on chasing her down. She was not going to let the opportunity slip, completing a gun-to-tape victory to become World Champion and not daring to believe victory was secure until she was on the finish-line carpet.
While Holly was able to enjoy the moment, she did not allow it to go to her head and remained just as driven as ever.
“I feel like I didn’t beat everyone on their best day, so that drives me going forward, there’s no resting on my laurels!”
With the highs often come lows and Lawrence’s title defence, in a season in which she won an incredible six IRONMAN 70.3 events, brought a painful DNF. It was one Holly was brutally honest about afterwards.
“After racing so aggressively all early season (and a little bit too much), during my mid-season break I panicked and did way more than I was told to and should have. I picked up an injury and it hit me hard.
“By the time I got to Worlds I felt like a total fraud. I wasn’t sure how much I could even run. The last couple of months involved failing bike workouts, not only was I getting too precious about nailing bike workouts to compensate for not being able to run, but I wasn't fuelling enough to hit my sessions properly because I focussed too much on body weight.
“I was emotionally drained and didn't have the fight in me. I have a duty to all my followers to show both sides of the story, not just the picture-perfect images from Instagram.
“I raced all season (winning!), at a normal weight for me and I didn't need to change anything.”
It had been a tough lesson to learn, but one Holly would quickly bounce back from, ending the year with the first of three back-to-back victories at the IRONMAN Middle East Championship in Bahrain.
2018 brought more challenges as Holly broke her foot (during the race), at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside. She still finished a brave second but, unable to walk, she even missed the prize presentation afterwards.
With one doctor telling her she would never run again, the injury to Lawrence’s cracked navicular bone would mean no World Championship appearance in 2018.It was time to save her career.
“I think you realise how much it means to you just to even run, not even to compete,” she said.
There were plenty of tears after the resulting surgery, but Regional Championship wins in Bahrain, St. George, Vietnam and Elsinore after starting again from scratch, proved that initial medical prognosis very wrong.
Second place behind Daniela Ryf at the 2019 World Championship is all the evidence needed that Holly is back amongst the very best in the sport.
Don’t let the sun go down on me
Asked what she can’t live without, Holly’s answer is immediate: “The sun - I swear I’m solar powered”.
Holly has also come to realise what helps her perform, revealing: “I race best when I’m happy and having fun, so I just enjoy it, do my best and let the rest happen”.
While “pushing the limits of what I thought was possible” has been a successful motivator, finding a balance is key.
“Not taking myself too seriously, living life to the fullest, staying humble and always striving to be better” is how she sees her legacy.