IT'S been 18 months since Ali Day competed in a competitive ironman race, which is easily the longest stint he's spent away from the sport in his career.
But that will all change on Saturday when the Kiama product, who missed all last season through two wrist injuries, takes part in the 2020-21 Nutri-Grain Ironman Series qualifier at Kingscliff Beach.
"There's no doubting the past few months has had its challenges and bumps along the way, including it taking me a bit longer than hoped to recover from injury, but that's all behind me now," Day, who's last competition was at the 2018 Australian Titles in April said.
"Understandably, over the past 18 months, I've overcome plenty of adversity between injuries and COVID-19 but I've taken it all in my stride and am very fortunate to be able to return to action this weekend when numerous sports haven't had that chance yet.
"I've got four solid months of training under my belt now and I'm doing things I wasn't pre-injury, which has boosted my confidence."
Originally, Day had hoped to make his return to competitive action at the Coolangatta Gold but once that got canned, he turned his attentions to other aspects - both in the sport and away from it.
"Obviously it was disappointing to not race at the Gold but it's one of those things that was out of my control with COVID-19," the Surfers Paradise SLSC athlete said.
"That cancellation allowed me to focus on my wife Kel and the birth of our son Danny.
"I know it's cliche but children put everything in perspective and change life for the better.
"Being a dad is the best job in the world - it makes you feel 10-foot tall.
"At the moment, there's not much I can do except give Kel a break and look after him for a while - Kel has been amazing.
"I can't wait to start having a relationship with him - hopefully he looks up to me and we become best mates.
"It really gives you that sense of balance in life - when I'm training, that's all I'm concentrating on but when I get home, I'm brought back to reality.
"I've always been a motivated person but I'm now more determined than ever to succeed for our little family."
His first chance to do so will be at this weekend's qualification round, where more than 120 athletes, including Day's former club-mate at Warilla-Barrack Point Hayden White, will battle it out for 10 spots - to join the pre-qualified 10 ironman for this summer's six-round series.
On Saturday, the field will compete in three separate ironman races, with the top 20 on accumulated points progressing to Sunday's action, where they'll do it all again to establish the top 10 qualifiers.
"Once the date got set and there were no wildcard spots awarded, which I thought I may have got, I fully invested preparing myself for this weekend," the St Joseph's Catholic High School alumnus said.
"I competed in this qualification series as an 18 an 19-year-old and have been lucky enough to re-qualify for every series since - it's been 11 years since I've been in this position.
"Even though I'm sure my experience is an advantage in this situation, I won't be going in complacent at all, as there are so many guys that are hungry and want to be part of the pinnacle of ironman racing.
"Everyone who puts their foot on the line on Saturday is there for the same reason and I know if I focus on the basics of each leg, go through the right processes, execute my plan and not focus on the outcome, I'll walk away happy on Sunday.
"I have the confidence I've done all the work and preparation I can to succeed - I'll be leaving it all out there on the weekend."
Strong results over the weekend will also give the two-time series winner the confidence he can claim a third title.
"I'm looking to use this weekend as an opportunity to see where I'm at physically and give me the confidence I can compete with the top athletes in the country," he said.
"I don't want to just make up the numbers - I want to win races, be competitive and try and win another series, which all starts this weekend.
"And with this weekend being at the same venue as rounds one and two, it should give me an advantage if I do qualify.
"I'm pumped to feel those pre-race nerves and energy of the crowd again, as well as seeing the joy my racing brings to my friends and family - I've missed them over the past 18 months.
"It's an exciting time for the sport and I can't wait to get back involved."
Nowra-Culburra product Kirsty Higgison won't compete this weekend, having already qualified for the women's series, which will compete at Kingscliff Beach (December 19-20), North Cronulla (January 16-17) and Kurrawa (February 13-14).
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