Emma Carney burst onto the ITU circuit in 1994, surprising the field by cruising to her first ITU World Championship in her debut world title race.
It didn’t surprise her, she was convinced she would win ahead of Wellington, but hadn’t really considered what it meant. She arrived back in Australia to find national broadcasters waiting to interview her. Life had changed. Heading into the 1995 season, “I now had the strange problem of making a debut on the ITU circuit as a rookie and also as the current world champion,” Carney said.
She now wanted to prove herself, telling Triathlete magazine in 1995, “My win was basically seen as ‘soft’ or a ‘fluke one-off.’ This year is about clearing that up. I am here to stay and mix it up with the big girls.”
And Carney did just that. From her first ITU World Cup race in 1995, to the first of the 1997 ITU World Cup Season, she was undefeated. She collected 12 ITU World Cup titles in that time. And after finishing second behind Michelle Jones in Monaco in 1997, she went on to win an incredible seven more. Carney puts one of the most successful streaks ever in ITU competition down to her total focus to be the best.
“Every training session, every day, every race was there to win, get me faster or work on my mind to make sure I was the best,” she said. “I have never needed motivation, training partners or the comforts of ‘life’. I lived, breathed and dreamt triathlon. It usually meant I won. If I didn’t win I didn’t deal with it well.”
The only blips during those incredible 1995 and 1996 seasons, were that she didn’t win the ITU World Championship race. In 1997 she rectified that by taking her second ITU World Championship in Perth.
But in 1998 Carney’s career started to encounter problems. She had stopped winning and in a bid to make up for it, she trained harder and harder again. Six years later while completing a swim training session in Edmonton, Carney suffered a cardiac arrest. She was subsequently diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, a condition where the heart can beat out of control.
“Looking back I had shown all the signs of a heart problem, but I had told no one of the problems I had been going through in races. I thought it was me, so I just got through. Lucky it didn’t kill me,” Carney said.
In 2004 she had a defibrillator implanted in her heart’s right ventricle. It meant she could no longer complete intense exercise and it took her a while to find the balance. But then came another blow, as Carney’s elder sister Jane was diagnosed with, and died from cancer.
“I saw my sister die and life come to an end,” Carney told writer Timothy Carlson in 2006, “That was a well of anguish that surpasses anything I’d ever seen or felt in life. I’d been obsessed with winning. But there was so much of life I’d just never thought about such things before.”
It helped bring perspective to Carney. In 2014 she is still involved in triathlon, coaching and running training camps, and still finds time to indulge her competitive spirit, competing in the Noosa Triathlon in 2012.