Danielle McKenzie had 2020 all lined up.

After bursting onto the international surfski scene by claiming the 2019 World Championship in her first major race, the Nutri-Grain ironwoman was set for a year racing abroad, ready to sink her teeth into downwind competition.

Clearly, that’s not how it panned out.

But there has been one benefit to being stuck at home – addressing the tennis elbow condition that quietly plagued her breakout season.

“That’s sort of what prompted me to do something, knowing we weren’t going to be racing for a while,” she reveals to The Paddler.

“I have a couple of tears in my tendon and they think they’ve been there for a while now.”

The pain first began before her World Championships win in France last September, before progressively becoming more prevalent throughout the season that followed.

The pain didn’t debilitate her paddling, but between sessions and events she struggled.

Although she’s quick to dismiss any suggestion it may have impacted on her performance standard.

“I already knew that the racing didn’t hurt it and make it any worse, so I didn’t want to use it as an excuse or tell too many people about it,” McKenzie says.

“I think I almost enjoy a bit of pain. 

“Given I was already putting myself through a bit of hurt, racing with it didn’t worry me.

The silver lining in being unable to travel abroad and race due to the COVID-19 pandemic is that McKenzie had the time to heal her elbow.

She’s received a number of injections which have forced her to spend some rare time off the water –  but she’s free of the burden to prepare for an upcoming event.

“I’m in no rush.” she says. “I can actually plan my year a lot better and hopefully race better at the end of the year.”

“I knew that I was going to have all this time and with the WA Race Week in November it’s allowed me to adjust.”

Booth Training

Western Australia, home to the iconic downwind race The Doctor, is yet to open its state borders to the rest of the country amid a surge in cases in the city of Melbourne.

This second-wave has cast doubt on whether the WA Race Week can go ahead, but the nation’s surfski community is preparing to race nonetheless.

And for McKenzie, the defending champion, this year’s $200,000 format is an obvious source of excitement.

“It’s honestly unreal,” she says.

“Now that we’ve had this time of no racing, it’s so positive to have something to work towards.

“I can plan my training specifically for the Race Week, because it’s the biggest event on the calendar for us this year.”

“The format that Dean [Gardiner] and Earl [Evans] have come up with is honestly mind-blowing.” 

Key to this year’s Race Week billing is inclusion of the ironperson event.

The top five men and women from last year’s professional series will battle it out for $20,000, while also competing in the full downwind program.

McKenzie finds herself in a unique position as the only athlete to have one foot firmly in both camps.

“It’s interesting, it’s definitely going to bring the level of competition up even further,” she reflects.

“Those iron girls are so good over all of the disciplines, so to have them there will be really positive for the sport.

“For me, it’s really exciting. I feel confident I can do really well in all of the races.

“It means I get to do both sports at once, which is something that doesn’t happen all too often.”

McKenzie was unable to attend the full Race Week last year due to a clash with the ironwoman series, so not only is she entering uncharted waters in terms of managing the workload, but the addition of the board race and the ironperson showdown creates a somewhat a daunting proposition.

One which will likely take a toll on her body.

“I think it will, but with everyone competing in all other races throughout the week anyway I don’t think it will have too much of an influence,” she says.

“As soon as details of the Race Week came out and the structure of it, straight away I started planning how I’d recover between races and mapping things out.

“With the longer distance racing there may be parts where you aren’t maxing out at 100 per cent.

“It’s the intensity that brings the pain – the higher the intensity, the sorer your body will be, so it’s about managing that.

“It’s so different to anything I’ve done before.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

One thing is certain though – McKenzie will be ready to fire.

She’s recently started joining Jeremy Cotter’s Gold Coast training squad for some sessions and Cotter – a three-time 20 Beaches champion – has certainly been impressed, saying he’s “never seen a girl paddle that fast in my life”.

“If people like that are saying good things, then hopefully I can deliver more,” McKenzie sa

“I wish I found out about these guys earlier in my life.

“They’re such good, positive people will such nice things to say.

“It gives me more confidence to train with the guys as well.

“It’s still quite a male dominated sport, but I really enjoy turning up and training with the guys.

“I still feel like I can get faster, and I feel like I have a lot more to give to the sport.”