Amber Schlebusch Takes The First Women’s Triathlon Gold For South Africa

"During my run, I had goosebumps – I was having the run of my life!"


Cally Silberbauer |

The December issue of Women’s Health is officially on shelves and this month is all about inspirational women. One of the girls who keeps us motivated with her passion for her sport is Amber Schlebusch. At 17 years old, not only has she competed in the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, she’s also won a gold in her division: women’s triathlon. This also happens to be South Africa’s first ever youth triathlon Olympic gold. What’s more, she does all of this while acing her school work! Here’s how…

A Day In The Life Of Amber

An average day begins before the sparrows are even up – a 4am start so she can squeeze in a workout before school. “I train about twice a day, on average,” she begins, “4am is the first session, then I go to school and do my second session later.”

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A hectic training programme doesn’t mean Amber skips school sport. “I’m part of the swimming, cross-country and athletics teams,” Amber says. “I used to be part of the water polo team as well, but I stopped playing last year as I was battling to manage my academics and sporting commitments.”

“By the end of the day I’m usually exhausted,” Amber admits. This is completely understandable with such a superhuman schedule. “I’m so grateful to have the support system I have. My teachers are incredibly helpful and always willing to help me if I need to catch up.” Not that her training requires her to miss much, but travelling for events does. “This is when balancing school work and sport becomes tricky, but my friends are also always offering to help me with missed work.”

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The Youth Olympics

This was the first Youth Olympics Amber has taken part in. “The event only comes around every four years and you have to be a certain age – I was lucky to fall into the right birth year to qualify. “

“I was really nervous before the start,” Amber recalls. “I tried to remain calm and focused. Triathlon is a very technical sport and often athletes get caught up thinking too far ahead in the race. I try to focus on each discipline as it happens.” Starting with the dive, she focuses on nothing but the water session. “Then hopefully everything else will just fall into place.”

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But that doesn’t mean everything always goes to plan. “I made a few mistakes,” Amber says – errors which put her in eighth place after the cycle. “But I persevered and didn’t let those mistakes get to me.” On the cycle section and run, it was all about focusing on the person in front of her. “I needed to hang onto that group if I wanted to podium.”

Image supplied by Amber

“During My Run, I Had Goosebumps… I Was Having The Run Of My Life”

Recalling the hard work and track sessions with her coach, Amber used these memories to dig deep and push even harder on the run. “I realised I’d won the race when I hit the blue carpet and looked back to see the second athlete a few metres back,” Amber says. In complete disbelief, she lifted her glasses and stared at the tape in front of her. “I started crying and I ran up to grab the tape as the moment I’d  been dreaming about for two years became reality.”

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“I never expected to win when I started the run,” Amber admits. The enormity of the win only registered a few days later. It was only when Amber saw the stir she was creating on social media that she realised how big a deal her achievement was. “I felt honoured to start Team SA off on the right foot.”

What The Future Holds…

With just a year to go until she matriculates, Amber is beginning to plan her future. “I want to take a gap year and try to qualify for the South African relay team in the 2020 Olympics,” she says. “It’s a long shot as I’m still a lot younger than the other athletes trying to qualify, but it’s my next goal.” After seeing what she’s already managed to achieve, we have no doubt she’ll give those girls a run for their money.

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“My next big event is [the Discovery Triathlon] in February 2019,” says Amber. “I’ll be racing the elite ladies race and I’m excited to set a benchmark for the following season.” We’ll be watching eagerly to see how she does. I’ve got a feeling Amber will be surprising a few of the elite women on the day.

Amber with her coach; image supplied by Amber

Amber’s Advice For Triathletes Starting Out

“It may seem daunting at first when you think about completing three different sports continuously, but it’s all [about] baby steps.” Start small, then build on it. “Enter with a few mates so you can do it together. Take the pressure off yourself and focus on enjoying it rather than racing.”

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When it comes to training, consistency is key. “Trust the process,” Amber says, speaking from experience. “Find a training group that has a social and serious aspect to it as this makes training so much easier.”

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