IRONMAN Australia and Port Macquarie will always have a special place in Ali Fitch's heart.
It was the location of one of her first professional Ironman races and one which also has an added special meaning.
"My husband came to race with me in 2007 and my brother came back racing as well; he's the one that inspired me to get into Ironman racing."
Brother Tony returned to racing that year after a seven-year absence and they both competed for the same reason after they had lost sister Kristin to non-smoking related lung cancer earlier that year.
"It was really special, that was back in the day when you could run down the finish line with your family," Fitch said.
"So I grabbed my sisters' two boys right at the finish line and it was really really special."
Fitch will return to Ironman Australia - this time as an age-grouper after spending many years as a professional - next month with a two-pronged focus.
While the goal is to get to the finish line, the 46-year-old admitted it would be just as important to enjoy the day.
"I'm (looking forward to) getting out there, enjoying the day and seeing what the body has," she said.
"I'll be going a solid pace so I can enjoy it and say hi to the local Port Macquarie people and other friends that are racing or supporting.
"My niece is racing in her first half-Ironman as well so that'll be fun."
Fitch overcame a horrendous run of injuries between 2008 and 2010 that included a broken skull as well as hip and back surgery.
"That didn't go so well and resulted in nerve damage down my left leg and then I was rehabilitating and had surgery for a blocked artery," she said.
"(There were) complications from all these things, then (husband) Stu had a crash and I rode over him and landed on my head, broke my skull and then rehabilitated that.
"It was going on and on and in between all that I was trying to get back to racing and it was just a nightmare.
"In 2010 I think I was more in hospital than not in hospital."
In 2010 I think I was more in hospital than not in hospital.Ali Fitch
There were "many times" during those years where the thought of racing wasn't enjoyable, but it was a determination to return that provided the motivating factor.
"In 2012 I had the opportunity to join a professional tri team and was still not happy with how my body was doing but it was the best it had been so it felt like it was going okay," she said.
The decision to switch her focus to starting a family came shortly after.
Unsurprisingly, her return as a professional came in 2016 at Port Macquarie on the back of three-and-a-half weeks' worth of preparation.
"A friend said 'let's do Ironman'," she said.
"Her in-laws lived here and I was very untrained, but it was fun and I got through it and enjoyed the day.
"I could only really push so far on the bike because I've got residual nerve damage in one of my legs and that's pretty much taken me out of racing."
Port Macquarie was the location when Fitch started as a pro and it will always be a special event.
"There's not one particular point I'm looking forward to on race day," she said.
"It used to be just to get to the finish, but now it's enjoying the whole day - the start, the nerves, swimming, riding, saying hi to the volunteers and seeing lots of friends out there."
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