Sally Fitzgibbons is driven to be world champion. She’s come close with runner-up finishes in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but 2016 was her weakest year on tour, ending up in 8th position. It’s not a place we’re used to seeing Sally settle, and we can safely assume it’s not a place she wants to stay.
Armchair critics have suggested she took on too much outside of competition. Not so, says Mike Bray, Sally’s business partner in Fitzgibbons International. “Outside of a small window late in the year, Sally actually had less commitments locked in over the year than she had in 2014 and 2015 where she finished 3rd and 4th in the world respectively.”
The story does go a little further back, however. Sally’s love of sport runs deep, and not many will know she could have made it as a professional runner after taking Gold in the 800m and 1500m at the 2007 Youth Olympics in Sydney. Add to that her achievements in soccer and touch football at a national level, and one starts to see the diversity of experience and talent that this remarkable young lady possesses.
Sally set up Fitzgibbons International in 2015 as a marketing platform for her personal brand as well as The Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation to inspire the next generation of Aussie kids to live active and healthy lives. Given Sally’s background, it makes total sense. Even her book, Live Like Sally, was written to pass on the knowledge and lessons that Sally has learned in areas like fitness, nutrition, body image, victory, defeat, and adventure. She’s followed the book up with a mobile app with training programs designed from over 10 years of Sally’s elite training knowledge and experience. The “All Australian Beach Body” app launches in earnest this week with the first of a series of live workouts taking place on the Gold Coast.
Before leaving for her final WCT event in Maui last year, Fitzgibbons International hosted a QS6000 event in Cronulla, Sydney – just 90 minutes north of Sally’s hometown. That event was Sally’s way of giving back to the youth and building into the next generation, along with one last opportunity for the girls to qualify for the World Tour.
So maybe it was a hectic run through the end of 2016 that distracted Sally going into the final event of the year, or it may have just been the inconsistent swell that plagued Honolua Bay. Either way, Sally finished the 2016 tour with her third Round 2 exit of the year. But Fitzgibbons is the consummate professional and has spent the past two years with a focus on the future – a testament to her character, vision and tight support network. She recognizes the importance of a balanced life alongside competitive surfing, as well as what that would look like after competing professionally. In doing so, she’s raised the important and rarely discussed topic of athletes making a healthy transition out of competitive professional careers.
In doing all this, she’s raised the important and rarely discussed topic of athletes making a healthy transition out of competitive professional careers. It’s common for athletes in many sports to have careers end with no plan for life after their days in a jersey. This lack of foresight can lead to everything from losing years in questioning one’s self-worth, navigating a new life outside the bubble that was being a professional athlete, and in the worst cases, depression and even suicide.
These aren’t realities we normally associate with surfers, but the sport is wading into a new age of professionalism. Athletes have opportunities today that didn’t exist in surfing before, there for the taking to those who want it. Surfers are realizing the importance of a holistic career – one that goes past just taking dollars for a sticker on the nose. Sally Fitzgibbons is leading the way in this area for women’s professional surfing, perhaps inspired by the likes of Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning, who are part of the rare few pioneering a commercial path outside of contest surfing.
Regardless of the critic’s views, Sally is too good to keep from contention for a world title in 2017. She may have devoted much of the past two years to bedding down her future outside of a contest jersey, and it may or may not have had an adverse affect on performance. Either way, 2017 could very well be the year that the perennial bridesmaid becomes the ultimate bride.