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When Hayden Wilde stepped into the office at Pacific Toyota in Tauranga, General Manager Mark Mills had a feeling he was meeting someone with strength of character.
The back story to this is well worth telling, as it’s uncanny how closely Hayden’s journey aligns with Toyota’s core beliefs and values.
In 2013, a 15-year-old Hayden Wilde borrowed a mate’s mountain bike and thought he’d give a duathlon a ‘crack’ (a 5km run, 20km cycle, and another 5km run). Having never really ridden a bike in a race before, he didn’t really know what to expect but won it anyway.
Of course when you’re young you only know what you know. Hayden knew he loved to race and that he could run. Many of his cross-country and running records still stand at Whakatāne's Trident High School, providing a benchmark for the next Eastern Bay of Plenty wonder kid.
The Eastern Bay of Plenty is already home to world class athletes Sarah Walker (BMX), Lisa Carrington (kayaking), Sam Clarke (multisport) and Karen Hanlen (mountain biking) so Pacific Toyota CEO Mark Mills was asked how the region keeps producing so many champions. “I'm not really sure,” he says.
“Maybe the Bay promotes a lifestyle that encourages outdoor pursuits? We have great beaches, some wonderful mountain biking and a good all-round climate, or maybe there’s simply something in the water!!”
In 2015 Hayden’s first big international win came at the XTERRA World Championship in Hawaii – a gruelling version of the triathlon that has competitors swim 1,500m, mountain bike 40km and run 10km cross-country, often over very difficult terrain. Having never swum before, Hayden entered as a 17-year-old in the under-19 age group.
Many would consider simply finishing a world championship event of this nature as a major achievement, but Hayden won it. He won it again in 2016 as a 17-year-old. Hayden gives credit to the belief of his teachers at Trident High School for encouraging him to enter more events. Knowing that he had the legs to run and cycle, a staff member encouraged him to have a go at multisport.
Hayden jumped into a surf ski and paddled with his school mates who were into the surf club scene. “Falling off the ski multiple times is not the funnest of things to do,” he says. Many hours were spent on the Whakatāne River, chasing his mates, with plenty of good banter and an innate drive to compete in the pursuit of continual improvement. Hayden became quickly proficient and decided to enter a few more events, including the 50km 3D Rotorua Multisport Festival and the 2016 two-day Coast to Coast. At the time, Hayden has just turned 18 years of age, but he soon established himself as a force to be reckoned with, winning the two day event in 12 hours and 18 minutes, almost 45 minutes ahead of the second place getter and beating world class athletes in the Rotorua event.
“I could do all right out of this gig,” Hayden thought. “Might even make a job out of it.” Having won the XTERRA World Championship age group title two years running, he made the move to Tauranga for more coaching support. It was with coach Dave Jaggs at the time that Hayden laid out his goal to compete at the Olympics.
The pair quickly realised that XTERRA was not an Olympic sport, so a change to triathlon was discussed. With a new focus on triathlon and the goal of an Olympics, Hayden began swimming in a local triathlon squad. The squad was led by ex-Olympic swimmer Liz van Welie, who many would say is a hard taskmaster.
“For a young boy to come from no swimming background to start swimming five times a week, 6km a day, is a big step up.”
Hayden soon flourished in the pool. Dave Jaggs, with his extensive background in kayaking, suggested a full move to triathlon and set up a meeting with Liz and husband Greg Cummings, who own Tauranga’s newest aquatic centre.
Hayden is now sponsored by Liz van Welie Aquatics and Craig Kirkwood Coaching, gaining free access to full swimming development while Craig takes care of the cycling and the running.
Greg has taken on the management aspects, working to secure the necessary funding and support needed to pursue Hayden’s dream of the Olympics. “Liz, Craig and I are so impressed with this young guy, moving to Tauranga at 18, by himself, flatting, working and training, all self funded. He’s an incredibly hard working and yet humble young man and we all believe he’s got what it takes,” says Greg.
“Hayden is certainly not afraid of hard work and has an impressive resilience and focus,” says Craig. “With his mountain biking background he is fearless on the bike, which sets him up well in triathlons, and the boy can run!”
The Port of Tauranga Half ironman was Hayden’s way of humbly putting up his hand and announcing his arrival as an athlete to pay attention to. Racing against 12 time IRONMAN New Zealand winner Cameron Brown and three-time world multisport champion Braden, it was Hayden applying the pressure throughout the race, chasing Braden throughout and only being caught by Cameron with a few kilometres to go.
“To stand on the podium with these world class legends was an honour and something I’ll always cherish,” says Hayden.
The past two years have been spent working hard on the swimming. “In triathlon, if you’re not out of the swim with the front pack, your race is over,” says Hayden. Craig had him competing in Asia during 2017 as part of this development. “The Asian series of events has world class competitors and it was a chance for us to see how Hayden travelled and managed himself. You simply have to be resilient on multiple fronts and the races in Asia were a chance for us to observe this,” says Craig.
“He was still ‘under done’ in his swimming though,” says Liz. “His swimming was nowhere near where I wanted it to be, or where he needed to be, but there are certain experiences you can only get from racing.”
Hayden would be the first to tell you that the swim in any triathlon is not a non contact sport. The shoulder to shoulder swims result in many blows from hands, elbows and feet, making you feel as if you’re in a washing machine with a rugby forward pack. With Liz’s “You’re not going to die” phrase to live by, Hayden’s swims continued to improve and, along with this, his confidence and belief did too.
In almost almost all races Hayden recorded some of the fastest bike splits and run splits, while gradually improving his swim time and placings, leading the Japanese media to say, “When this kid gets his swim sorted it’s all over”.
With a number of top 10 finishes, including a third in Japan amongst Olympic triathletes from Rio, Hayden can be very proud of a solid year of development. No athlete can avoid the feeling of letting down supporters and sponsors – it comes with the territory.
“When you’re 20 years old, racing internationally, this is all experience,” says Craig. “We’re working on sequential processes for the year ahead so that Hayden does first things first during a race. What we do in training becomes what we do in racing.”
After a year of competing, Hayden was able to front another race on home soil in Mt Maunganui, with family and supporters there to see him race. To say Liz was thrilled would be an understatement, as Hayden exited the water with Taylor Reid and Ryan Sissons (with current world rankings).
Twelve months earlier Hayden would have been over a minute behind. He ran home for a credible fourth place. If ever there was evidence of what this young man could do, the team had just witnessed it, shared in the frustration of gear failure, glowed in the thoughts of what’s to come. It can be a long road in development for athletes, coaches, families and sponsors. The thread that binds them all is ‘belief’. Take away the emotion, look at the stats, the times in the pool, the work on the bike and in running, and these inspirational glimpses of performance, and you have a solid belief of what could be for this young man.
When Greg called Mark Mills to discuss Hayden as an athlete, Mark had read the CV and knew full well that this was an opportunity to show Pacific Toyota walking the talk, believing in local talent.
“Hayden came across as a winner when we first met. He had a fighting spirit and came from a humble background; it’s a great story and I felt that we’d missed the opportunity with the likes of Peter Burling and Lisa Carrington. Our part in his total programme is only small, but if he gets Olympic status I feel it will all have been worthwhile.”
For Hayden, training continues: a week in Gisborne with the Liz van Welie Aquatics squad where he will complete 100km of swimming, 400-500km on the bike each week and 30-50km of running. He does all of this while holding down a 30-hour week of work.
Pacific Toyota joins a great team of sponsors who share the belief that Hayden’s dream of being in Tokyo in 2020 is believable. Hayden gets around town and to events in his little red Toyota Corolla – Believe.