Gen LaCaze is racing to leave a legacy
The poster girl for Australian athletics, Gen LaCaze seemingly has it all. A dual Olympian and an Australian record holder, LaCaze is part of Australia’s most successful training group, Melbourne Track Club.
Off the track she’s engaged to 1500m star Ryan Gregson, as the pair travel the world chasing the sun and altitude camps, sharing their adventures with LaCaze’s 100,000+ social media followers as they go.
One thing you don't get to see from the outside world is her hunger. Far from satisfied with what she has achieved already, there's a fire burning that you can see in her eyes and hear when she speaks.
In a world where so much of what she does is structured and planned, the one thing LaCaze can’t control is time, and it’s slowly but surely running out.
Every single day matters to athletes like LaCaze. When you’re going toe-to-toe with the best athletes in the world, you better be ready. There’s no room for off-days, complacency, or taking the foot off the accelerator.
So when she got scan results in early October 2017 that didn’t go her way, most people saw two options. LaCaze saw one.
The easy option was to take the time her body needed to heal, and return to competition in the middle of 2018. The other option was to cross-train relentlessly until she could run again, and give herself an outside chance of being ready to compete on the Gold Coast in April.
Against the odds, LaCaze chose to put herself through hell for the chance to compete in front of a home crowd in April.
“The time frame is so short, what I’m trying to do is almost mission impossible. Especially after how hard 2017 was”.
“Everyone has said to me that what I’m trying to do is risky. There are so many risk factors with what I'm doing, I've had such a long time off, and now I’m forcing my body to get back in shape, back in time, past the limit.
But...it’s worth it for a home games".
Most athletes never get the chance at a home games in their country, let alone in their backyard. For LaCaze, the chance to make a mark on the Gold Coast, where she grew up, is something she can’t let pass her by.
“This is an opportunity I’ve dreamt of since I was a little girl. I would rather go down trying than not give it a go”
“Running is my life, it's not just a job. It's everything”
When the games come around in April, few fans will know the extent of what LaCaze has been through just to toe the start line. No one sees the double days, the anxiety of waiting for test results, or the isolation of rehabbing while her training group is out running together.
Even with the meticulous preparation, no days off, and checking all the boxes, there’s still the possibility that LaCaze may break down again before April. After all, she's not working this hard just to start a race. She's going to compete, to chase a medal.
No days off.
“I can’t just sit around and say ‘maybe next time’. Whatever happens, this journey will make me better for the years I will have after this”.
Careers move fast in this sport. One minute you’re the next big thing on the scene, and at some point without you knowing, it becomes a race against time to squeeze out the last drops of potential before the sun sets on your career.
It’s easy to forget that LaCaze has been on the world stage since 2012, the year she finished her NCAA career with Florida and competed in the London Olympics.
“In the professional athlete sense, I am in the second half of my career. To now miss 4 months of not even running on land is a wasted opportunity. There’s plenty of times in 2017 where I’ve sat there and thought that time is slipping by.
There are still so many opportunities and that’s what I’ve had to focus on. It’s more about long term goals that has kept me motivated”.
All professional athletes are chasing the win that will define their career. That moment that elevates them from elite talent to champion. For an athlete like LaCaze that opportunity comes barely once a year. Measuring a career on a handful of race days is a cruel reality.
Months go by without the chance to test yourself. Long blocks of training, of isolation at altitude camps and feeling somewhat disconnected from the outside world, without the chance to go head to head against the best.
“There are so many times you find yourself really doubting the path you’re on and wondering when it’s finally going to take a turn for the better and stop running into brick walls and getting scan results that don’t go your way.
There’s definitely a lot of questioning where you’re at and at what age are you getting too old”.
“There will be a point, whether that's after the next Olympics or whenever it is, where I can't continue.
So I'm going all out now while I live this nomadic lifestyle. I take full advantage of it.
Pushing my body to its limits is going to be worth it”
If there was a silver lining to the last few months of 2017, it was the opportunity for contemplation.
While there's no doubt the fire is burning inside of LaCaze, she knows at some point it will be time to move on to the next phase of her life.
“Running is everything right now, but in the scheme of things I have a wonderful fiance and an amazing family. There are other chapters to life. One day I want to have a big family, I want to have 5 kids, I want it all”.
Between now and then, LaCaze is devoting all of her energy into reaching her lofty goals, which one day include stepping up to the marathon.
“I don’t want to be looking back at 40 and thinking ‘I could have done this, I could have achieved that’. I do want to win a medal, I do want to be a 4 time Olympian, I do want to do a marathon and do it well”.
“My biggest fear is putting all the eggs in one basket, what if I fast forward 10 years from now and I have a glimpse of what I’ve achieved, and it’s not what I thought I would get out of it”.
It’s hard to imagine what would satisfy LaCaze, but maybe that’s why she has come so far. There are so many potential distractions for someone of her profile, yet she stays solely focused on making a mark.
“I've ticked some things off, like an Australian record, but I don’t want to be someone that was just in the scene and then out of the scene. I want to be remembered.
For me, reaching my goals is everything. I’ll break my body over and over again to get there. I know I can hurt myself enough and I know I can be disciplined enough, but everything has to align sometimes and some of it is out of my control”.
As LaCaze approaches Gold Coast and beyond, ultimately building to Tokyo 2020, there will undoubtedly be setbacks and bumps in the road. It's the life of an athlete.
But if all the hard work and sacrifice can produce a period of form like it did in 2016, a period where LaCaze smashed PB's and Australian records, she will ensure her name lives on in the sport long after she hangs up her spikes.