Extreme Leanne

BY ANDREW MATHIESON
LINING up before the starting line at the Australian Triathlon Championships next Sunday, self-confessed “adrenalin junkie” Leanne Churchill will have a wry grin from ear to ear.
For the Grovedale personal trainer, the 1.5-kilometre swim, 40km cycle and 10km run around Corio Bay should be a breeze.
She’s faced tougher challenges.
An insight into her mobile phone voicemail confirms that.
“I’m either riding a wave or a mountain, jumping off something big or laid up in traction,” the message says.
That’s because Leanne is into extreme sports.
It all started five years ago by sheer accident, giving her a new lease on life.
“I feel now you only live once,” she grins.
“I grew up being pretty reserved and really didn’t take a lot of risks. Then I was quite sick in 2000 for a few years on and off.
“Once I got over that I thought I’d take hold of life and give it a red hot go.”
Leanne baffled doctors at the time with a few heart scares.
But rather than take it easy, she made the best of the situation.
After conquering mountain biking she quickly moved into snowboarding.
Two fractured vertebrae on the slopes didn’t stop her.
“I knew something was wrong because I was having a hard time breathing,” Leanne remembers of the accident.
“I wasn’t moving a lot. I was lying there thinking ‘what happened if I can’t walk?’.”
Leanne eventually got up and skied later that night. Only when x-rays revealed the severity of the injury did she stop – for a few months at least.
Within two years she was off the coast of Hawaii free diving – a daring extreme sport in which participants dive as deep as possible on a single breath.
After a few shallow attempts, Leanne’s first real dive was almost her last.
“I went pretty deep and I ran out of breath before I managed to surface,” she recalls.
“I didn’t panic but it certainly crossed my mind that I might pass out while I was ascending to the surface.
“Fortunately, I made it up there but it was scary.
“But you take measured risks, although at the time I was very gung-ho.”
Leanne still likes to free dive at Warrnambool.
Her best time under water is two minutes and 10 seconds.
“It’s not that impressive,” she quips.
Now at 31, Leanne has no intention of quitting anytime soon.
However, she can’t get away from another recent extreme experience – as a contestant on Network Ten’s second series of Australian Princess.
Leanne made it to the final four of the reality show.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, she now confesses.
“I enjoyed the experience but I had enough in the end,” Leanne says.
“I was happy to make it through to the last episode.
“There was nothing more I could achieve and I wasn’t having fun in the end.
“I just wanted to come home and have a surf.”
Now Leanne’s coming to grips with her newfound celebrity.
Everybody seems to recognise her.
“When I left the executive producer told me that no matter what you see or what you hear, you’re a good person,” Leanne remembers.
“At that point in time I figured I was screwed.”

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