THE 2020-21 surf lifesaving season was already a record-breaking one for Kiama's Ali Day after he won all six races during the summer's Nutri-Grain ironman series.
That unprecedented accomplishment made all the more impressive by the fact the Surfers Paradise athlete had been on the sidelines for close to 700 days due to injury and COVID-19.
"Looking back at that now, you think it went quick but I know, at the time, it felt like forever," Day said.
"It was a time in my life that was extremely tough but I'm grateful I went through it because of what's come out of it now.
"You're not to know the good that's going to come out of it and I definitely didn't think I was going to have the season I had going into the summer.
"The injury and time away from the sport have allowed me to see things differently, help refresh my body and mind and ease myself into training - which was a good change of pace instead of having four weeks off before ripping back into training."
But the 30-year-old's incredible comeback didn't stop there, as he pushed hard to try and win his first-ever Australian ironman crown - an event that had eluded him on his previous nine attempts, not to mention at an under 15s, 17 and 19s level.
"This event is bloody hard to win," Day, who's been on the Aussie ironman podium three times previously, said.
"The Gold on one hand is a four and half hour race and you can afford to make a mistake, while the ironman series has different stages, where you can afford to not be at your best once or twice.
"But in this race, it's 11 minutes and you've got to be strong on Saturday afternoon, from any position on the line and get through your heats, quarter-finals and semi-finals just to get to the decider.
"There's a lot of areas where I've faltered previously and I really wanted that to not be the case this season.
"You don't get many opportunities to win this race and going into this year, I said to myself 'if the opportunity presents itself, I'm going to grab it with both hands', which I did."
Nearly two weeks have passed, and Day, who is back on the South Coast with his family for the first time in close to two years, has had time to reflect on what he's called his career-best season.
"In 2019, I didn't think I could have had a better year - from winning the Coolangatta Gold to ticking off my first world title and then coming back to win the ironman series," Day, who admitted he went to another level in training to help achieve this memorable season, said.
"But I had a shocking race at Aussies, which was disappointing but because I was younger, I didn't think too much about it.
"Looking at the larger picture though, I'd won three of the four events I'd set out to and I thought to myself 'can things get any better?'.
"Soon after, I got married and then injured for 18 months, which made me change the goalposts to hopefully winning a couple of races and finishing on the series podium.
"To then win all six races, which has never been done before, I thought 'wow, that's pretty special'.
"Then to back it up at Aussies and win a title I'd been chasing for the best part of a decade and thought I might not ever achieve, this season quickly became my best.
"I have no idea how I can even better it next year - I'll literally have to win every single race I go in, starting with the Gold.
"It's obviously possible but winning that Aussie title takes a huge weight off my shoulders.
"As an ironman, there are the four major titles you want to win [Coolangatta Gold, ironman series, world titles and Aussie championships] and after ticking both the Gold and series off a couple of years ago, my goals started to change, as I want to complete the set.
"So to finally win the event that was the missing link if you will, is an awesome feeling, especially as there were times I thought it might not happen, due to injury and me getting up there in age.
"I even thought to myself 'if it doesn't happen this weekend, it might not ever happen' - which led to some nerves and pressure put on by myself.
"But deep down I knew I'd done the work to prepare as best as I could, so with the confident mindset, I was lucky enough to secure the win, which I'm absolutely stoked about."
Although he claims he 'could retire now happy', the St Joseph's Catholic High School alumnus, who also claimed silver in the board at the Sunshine Coast's Aussie titles, has no plans to pull the pin just yet.
"Every year I'm lucky enough to compete, I take something from it and this year's no different," the former Warilla-Barrack Point talent said.
"When I do retire, I'll look back and think about all I had to overcome just to get back on the start line for this special season.
"I had to fight some bloody hard demons along the way, so to win in the way I did is something I'll cherish forever and be proud to tell my kids about."
Once Day, his wife Kel and son Danny return to Queensland, he will ramp up preparations for his assault on the 2021-22 season, starting with the Gold in October - an event he was won a record six times.
"As an athlete, it's funny, as soon as you cross that finish line as I did at Aussies, your next thought is to what's next and for me, that's the Gold," he said.
"Although I'm trying to change that mindset and enjoy my time back in Kiama around friends and family, I know I'll get itchy feet soon and start preparing for the Gold as best as I can.
"I'll rip into training in June and give myself the best chance at success at the Gold, as I've only got a couple more left in me I think.
"To me, that's the final piece of the comeback puzzle I'd like to get, as watching that race from the sideline while injured was probably the toughest event I've had to sit through in my career.
"It's my favourite race to do and will always hold a special place in my heart, so I can't wait to get into the training and eventually get my foot on that start line."
"Even if I went on to win everything next year again, this year's going to be hard to top," Day, who admits he would have laughed at people if they'd told him the year he was going to have while doing rehabilitation, said.
"But the way I can match it is seeing the smiles on the faces of both Kel and Danny if I do succeed.
"What I did this season was beyond my wildest dreams and I'm just going to enjoy it and coming seasons for what they are.
"There are so many people in every sport that train their whole life and never reach the top, so I'm extremely grateful for the luck that has fallen my way and I'm going to soak it up for as long as I can.
"Every step of the journey has made me who I am today and I can't wait to see what happens next."
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.