22 January 2024

Aquathon to attract generations of athletes to the Illawarra on Australia Day

| Keeli Royle
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Blake Johnson with wife and kids at Aquathon 2023.

The Aquathon is now a whole family affair for athlete Blake Johnson. Photo: Aquathon.

Mums and dads will be diving in alongside their kids at this year’s Aquathon, with the iconic run-swim event attracting generations of family members keen to compete.

Blake Johnson first got involved in the event more than two decades ago at just 12 years of age.

“I first started because my swimming coach at Picton got me into triathlons and when this event popped up we thought it was a good local thing to do,” Blake said.

He won not one but two events in 2001 and found himself returning year after year, often claiming a podium finish.

And he’s held onto those trophies from his childhood because of the role they played in his athletic success.

“Back then I was starting as a junior athlete progressing to go to the institute of sport, so those were great steppingstones in getting from where I was to where I competed as a professional,” Blake said.

“It’s a good memory; my breakthrough was the Aquathon and competing against really good athletes.”

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Now, the event is special to Blake in a whole new way through his participation in the teams event with his children.

“I’ve got four kids and three of my kids are competing as well and we’re doing it together as a family,” he said.

“My kids are only young; they’re all under 8, so my dad and I actually swim and my boys do the running leg of it and often my wife does it too.”

Blake Johnson as a young athlete.

Blake first competed in the event when he was 12. Photo: Kelly Johnson.

And watching his boys go through the same experiences he did has created a full circle moment.

“It’s very rewarding and definitely makes you proud as a parent to watch them do it and see the smile on their face and they’re having fun and just wanting to be involved,” he said.

The diversity of experience, age and background were elements event director Rob Battocchio said made the race so attractive to locals and travellers.

“We’ve actually got a five-year-old doing the Kids Aqua, but essentially you’re saying six to well and truly in the 70-plus category.

“And it’s a really broad span – we’ll see elite national triathletes, surf life savers and very competitive age groupers and then we’ll see a significant amount of people who are just doing it for the first time who are just there to challenge themselves to see if they can complete it.”

The event, now in its 24th year, has become an Australia Day staple for many, with an event suited for every fitness level.

“You’ve got your Long Aqua which may be a bit more competitive or for those who want to be a bit more challenged with the fitness, Short, Mini, Kids and then a fun run/walk,” Rob said.

“So last year we had people walking their dogs, we’ve had people with their prams, so it really has become an event that a majority of people can take part in a safe and enjoyable way without being overly fit.”

2001 Aquathon trophies.

Blake won two races in his first Aquathon event in 2001. Photo: Supplied.

With hard work by Rob and his team, the event has bounced back from difficulties such as COVID and continues to be an extremely popular way to start the public holiday for people in the Illawarra.

And while friends, community groups and work colleagues motivating each other to get involved helps drive up participation, returning family members, like Blake, are part of what makes the event so strong.

“You’ve got the parents who may have done it when they were in their 20s and now they have the journey where they have one child, or maybe two or more, so there’s a cycle where they come back to the event and now they’re doing it with their children,” Rob said.

“For a lot of people they say it’s a public holiday and they just like getting out there and doing it together.”

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Registration is open until 15 minutes before each event, so there’s no excuse to miss the deadline.

The 2024 MMJ Aquathon will be at Belmore Basin in Wollongong on Friday 26 January.

The Fun Run starts at 8 am, followed by Long Aqua at 8:15 am, Mini Aqua at 9 am, Kids Aqua at 9:15 am and Short Aqua at 9:45 am.

To register or find out more visit the MMJ Aquathon website.

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