Paul Thistleton wanted to share a very special story about a very special woman, his Mum, Del. Del Thistleton is not only a daily inspiration to Paul, but we guarantee will be an inspiration to you all. With today being Mother’s Day in Australia, we thought it was a great opportunity to share Paul’s beautiful words for his Mum.

Text by Paul Thistleton | Images supplied


As triathletes, we all get caught up in the day to day ‘stuff’… how hard we work, can we fit in training, why aren’t I running as fast as I should be, do I really have to get up to swim. Blah blah blah. So, with today being Mother’s Day – that day where we all make a fuss about our Mums – I really take heed of my Mum as my ‘triathlon role model’ and the obstacles she overcame to do the sport … reminding me to embrace the healthy lifestyle that is the very gift of a sport such as ours.

Sometimes we all need to stop and really appreciate where we came from … what we have … and to ‘not sweat the small stuff.’ Mum’s life story certainly reinforces that to me. Contracting tuberculosis whilst working as a nurse in the 70’s and losing 50% of her left lung as a result of misdiagnosis, was just the beginning of a tumultuous journey as a Mother. Her first child, my older sister, Lauren, sustained breathing complications at birth, which affected brain function and led to Grand Mal seizures. Other physical conditions throughout Lauren’s life – knee dislocations, another type of epilepsy and a break in the hip joint – all made for a challenging time for us, especially Mum. Her medical training has literally been a lifesaver on many occasions. Suffice to say, Lauren needed ongoing care, and Mum stepped up to the plate as a full time carer. Expected? Maybe. But that’s what mums do, right? And, if you are a mum reading this and nodding your head, give yourself a pat on the back and a smile because you are awesome.

So, here’s Mum, caring for us kids and working at the hospital around Dad’s work roster. As if she hasn’t got enough on her plate, Mum takes up swimming by herself to rehab and rebuild her lung health. In doing this, she makes the acquaintance of a marathoner with paraplegia and before she knows it, she is running and riding – C’mon, we all know THAT person who coerced us into this stuff in the first place! Next stop, her first Marathon in 1984 and many more triathlons follow.

Age group wins or podium spots, stellar performances at World Championships at home and overseas – Mum did it all. Back then, there were only around five people per category selected, unlike the 20 spots allocated today. So, Mum’s star shone pretty brightly there in my book.


“…if it weren’t for how fit she was, she wouldn’t be here anymore to train at all.”


Let’s check that list of Mum’s accomplishments: registered nurse, full time carer, triathlete at many levels … getting exhausted yet? Mum could have stopped many times, but she didn’t. Triathlon can be many things – an outlet to escape the ‘everyday,’ the result of rehab for an injury, a ‘bucket list’ item … yet the very act of completing this sport itself teaches us the attributes of persistence and resilience. I’m pretty sure Mum never took that for granted.

Imagine this – Mum and I competing in the same triathlon while Dad looked after Lauren and, on each lap, both of us checking on her that she was ok and Dad giving us the thumbs up. Talk about multitasking!

Around the early 2000s, Mum’s health was dealt another blow. Further lung deterioration from a bug caught at work, then a heart condition that, more recently, has affected a lot of cyclists and triathletes – Atrial Fibrillation. On top of her already dodgy lungs, this all meant that she couldn’t race any more as she liked.

We all know what happens when we get injured, and how frustrating that makes us feel, yet for Mum, she was just thankful she was given the opportunity to experience all that she did. If doctors and specialists’ feedback is anything to go by, they have all consistently said that if it weren’t for how fit she was, she wouldn’t be here anymore to train at all.

So, Mum keeps going. Not racing, just embracing the lifestyle that this sport has given her. Swimming some laps, having a pedal and trotting along.

It’s at this point I should pay homage to Dad. He was also a huge support to me and, not to be left out, he added to Mum’s workload as well. As a youngster riding his motorbike, he came off second best with a car and had an extended stay in ICU. Mum says they let him out early because she had the skills to look after him at home. Of course she did!


“Get out there, do what you can and love every second.”


I have done triathlons for 30 years now and seen all types of triathletes over that time. So many athletes can be critical and down on themselves about how bad their training is, how slow they are, how many injuries they have, how many things are holding them back and how tough it can be. Mum’s story is a timely reminder not to focus on the negatives of our sport, not to question our ability or worry about our splits. It IS a reminder to wake up and smell the flowers and appreciate that we can do such a tough sport. Not everyone is going to win Kona, and what does winning Kona mean to most of us anyway? Mum’s story is just as important, to me even more so, than the story of the naturally gifted athlete who trains full time then goes on to have success. Get out there, do what you can and love every second. Pat yourself on that back because you did it, and embrace the opportunity you have been given. If you can participate in this sport positively and can say “I did as much as I could and I tried my best”, then you will get more out of the sport than the majority of athletes out there, no matter the level or ability.


For anyone who has overcome day to day struggles, I salute you. Happy Mother’s Day to my Mum and thanks for living that story.


Kellie Langley | Editor

About The Author

Stef Hanson. Chief.

Chief and founder of WITSUP

Serious about what I do, but don’t take myself too seriously

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5 Responses

  1. Mary Jackson

    Your mum is an amazing lady. I’ve had the privilege to train with her for many years and never once did she ever complain about anything. She focussed on what she could do and not what she couldn’t and got the job done. She is a true hero Paul and very proud of you and Lauren. Very well written.

  2. Irene Pritchard

    I had the privilege to work with this amazing woman. Love her and her family so much. Shared many years of chats. Watched each other’s families grow. A true friend indeed. Del you’re a legend. Xxx

  3. Dave Blakey

    with a super Mum it has to be hard having an average son !!haha …your /mum really is a legend !!

  4. Mutiara

    What a great read Paul.
    What a great tribute to your mum.
    Your mum is awesome

  5. Anita Mullaly

    What a beautiful tribute to your mum Paul. You forgot to mention your mum was not just any nurse, but a charge nurse working full time hours for many years whilst also playing the role of mum, wife, carer, taxi driver, psychologist, chef, maid..The list goes on… Aunty Del has always been an inspiration to me also, and I’m constantly amazed at all she has achieved whilst taking on all of Lauren’s many daily needs. That’s what mum’s do I guess, but it takes a very special woman to take on so much. Now Del is volunteering in an animal shelter also, caring for homeless dogs who definitely need extra loving, of which is another purely beautiful and selfless act. I’m proud to call you Family Aunty Del, as you are one of those quiet achievers in life. Just know that all that you are, and all that you do does not go unnoticed. You are a wonderful son too Paul, always there for your family and sister. Pretty inspirational family all round if you ask me. ❤❤❤


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