Australian News

How Ironman triathlons transformed domestic violence survivor Belinda Willshire’s life


March 21, 2020 10:16:14

Belinda Willshire lived in fear every day as she tried her best to shield her family from the horrors inflicted on her.

Key points:

  • Belinda Willshire’s ex-partner threatened to kill her
  • She left him with help from her mother and a women’s shelter
  • She took inspiration from her mother to start competing in Ironman triathlons

“He did his best to isolate me from my family,” Ms Willshire told ABC News.

“Hitting, kicking, he would quite often strangle me and burn me with cigarettes.

“If I tried to leave or said I would leave he would get a tin of petrol and say he would burn us all.”

It was the life that Ms Willshire endured for six years.

“I was never allowed to have friends,” she said.

The 42-year-old Adelaide Hills resident survived physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse at the hands of her violent ex-partner before she finally decided to escape.

“In his big moments where he would get really angry, there were times where he would use weapons,” she said.

“He would hold knives against me, and he would say he’d kill me and kill my sons.”

But it was one incident that forced Ms Willshire to leave for good.

“He came home, and he was very agitated at this particular time,” she said.

“When he came home, he had a gun and he wouldn’t let me or the little ones leave the house.

“Seeing the look on my son’s face at that time, that’s when I realised.”

A mother’s intervention

Ms Willshire’s mother, Annie Braddon, said her daughter’s ex-partner isolated her from her family.

Family and domestic violence support services:

“He didn’t want anything to do with the family,” Mrs Braddon said

“Any time that there was an occasion, he wasn’t a part of any of that.”

Mrs Braddon said she tried several times to convince her daughter not to return to the home they shared, but Ms Willshire insisted she had to go back.

“It came to a crunch the weekend she left our house,” Mrs Braddon said.

“We dropped her off home and she said ‘he’s home, you can’t come in’.

“It was by the time I had driven home that she was on the phone in tears and said ‘he’s got a gun in the house’.”

It’s not always easy to leave

With help from her mother, Ms Willshire was able to flee the home shortly after that incident.

“I didn’t have access to money,” Ms Willshire said.

“So Mum helped me at the time.

“I stayed at a women’s shelter and I felt quite safe.”

Two months into living at the shelter, Ms Willshire’s ex-partner took his own life.

“Looking back, I don’t really know I understood the whole concept of what I had been through,” Ms Willshire said.

“I struggled for many years having low self-esteem, not thinking I was good enough, and I suffered with an eating disorder for many years.”

In total, she spent seven months at the shelter and was assisted by a group coordinator to find safe housing.

Motivation for endurance

A few years ago, Ms Willshire watched her mother — a seasoned marathon runner — complete the New York Marathon.

Inspired by what she saw, she made a vow to do something more with her life.

She came across an Ironman triathlon video on YouTube.

Ironman is a long-distance triathlon race consisting of a 3.9-kilometre swim, a 180km bike ride and a 42km run.

Athletes race their way to perhaps one of the toughest finish lines in endurance sport.

“I couldn’t swim, I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a child, but it was just something I needed to do,” Ms Willshire said.

“It’s something I had to do to prove I am worthy and I am capable of everything that he always told me I wasn’t.”

After completing a few shorter triathlons, the mother-of-four stepped up to her first Ironman event at Busselton in Western Australia and crossed the finish line in 13 hours and 48 minutes.

She has also completed four Ironman 70.3 races, which are over half the distance of the traditional event.

The aged care facility manager is now leaning into her vision of self-care more than ever before.

She starts her day at 4:00am by training before she heads off to work.

Her training volume can be in excess of 25 hours per week leading up to a race.

Despite her relentless dedication to the sport, she said it had ultimately given her an outlet to heal, a sense of freedom and friendships she was never able to have.

“The journey you go on to get to the start line and get to the finish line, I’ve learnt so much about myself,” she said.

On race day when things get tough on course, Ms Willshire says to herself: “I am worth more than you made me feel”.




















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