Courtney Atkinson, 38, is one of Australia’s top athletes, with an impressive number of triathlon titles. The day this writer bumped into him, however, he was playing tour guide! Sounds strange? Not really, when you consider that his life has pretty much always revolved around sport and travel.
“The outdoor industry has evolved so much and, these days, content is key,” he says, when we sit to chat at the Cairns Harbour Lights Hotel in Queensland. “So when I go off doing my run adventures or my racing, being able to capture footage of that has become a big part of how I continue in the outdoor industry.
“Combining sport and travel in my projects got the attention of Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ), and that coupled with the Commonwealth Games being held in my hometown of the Gold Coast this year, led to this – going around Queensland and showing all the adventure and adrenaline experiences people can do around our state.”
Born in Mackay, Queensland, Atkinson was a member of Australia’s 2008 Olympic triathlon team, where he finished 11th in the men’s triathlon, and the 2012 Olympic triathlon team where he placed 18th. His achievement in sport was initially recognised between 2002 and 2004, when he took the title of Australia’s Triathlete of the Year award for three consecutive years.
Since then, he’s taken part in longer distance racing, as well as International Triathlon Union racing pursuits, which have taken him around the world. “I suppose elite sport and travel go hand in hand,” he explains.
“Even after the birth of my first child. My daughter spent half her life in Australia and half in France, just because that’s where I was racing at the time. So not only has travel been part of my lifestyle, but it’s also an amazing opportunity for me to share the globe with my family, and teach my kids a whole range of experiences that they would never have got living on the Gold Coast.”
The father of two enthuses about the many places he’s been able to visit, thanks to sport. “Everywhere around the globe!” he shares.
“One of the more memorable races was the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, where you literally had to jump off the boat at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, swim back to the mainland, bike for 28km on the Great Highway, and then run under the Golden Gate Bridge – for me, that was just an iconic triathlon! A great story and the whole idea of escaping the island was amazing, something I’d always wanted to do!”
Atkinson also rattled off “hot places” like Koh Samui and the unforgettable memory of the Olympic Games in London. “I was racing around Hyde Park, and the roundabout at Buckingham Palace, with about half a million people watching on! I’ll never forget those moments!”
Growing up on the Gold Coast, Atkinson was always a swimmer. “During high school, they make you try out a lot of sports, and I realised I could run. There was a teacher at school – a trailblazer for Ironman in Australia – who was doing the Hawaii Ironman, and he encouraged me to get on a bike. One thing led to another and, before I knew it, that became my career!”
The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games is proving to be a great experience for Atkinson.
“During the Games, apart from watching as many events that I can, my job with TEQ will be to make sure that people realise what else there is to do in our state. I’ll be taking athletes, once they’ve finished their events, as well as the media, out on familiarisation programmes. There may be swimmers going out on the Barrier Reef, we’ll take people out fishing in southern Queensland country, and up in helicopters to have a look around.
“We just want international athletes who are coming to GC2018 to get a chance to see some of Queensland, and to share their experiences with their followers in their home countries,” he says, adding that his role has mainly been to explain things from a Queenslander’s point of view, sharing his own personal experiences.
“I’m biased, of course. I love the Gold Coast. I say I’ve got the best backyard in the world. We’ve got the white golden beaches and then the rainforests, where I do all my training. There’s just so much to see.”
His personal favourites? “My favourite place is up here in Cairns because there are so many adrenaline- and action-oriented things to do. We have the World Mountain Biking Championships here; the courses are amazing. You can get out to the reef, take boats out, or fly, and then run up Bartle Frere (At 1,611m, Mount Bartle Frere is Queensland’s tallest peak) or white water down Tully River.
“You can, within a few hours, do pretty much every adventure activity you want to do – and that’s not counting zip-lining, bungee jumping and everything else! Cairns region is an amazing place for people who just love the outdoors. And, of course, the weather year round is nice and hot.”
Best part of the job? “Definitely not the plane flights!” he laughed. “I guess it’s that I get to share the best parts of Queensland with others, and sometimes money can’t buy those sort of experiences.
“I’ve lived in Queensland my whole life. I was born in Mackay, just south of Cairns, grew up in the Gold Coast. But thanks to my involvement with TEQ, I’ve been able to go back to places that I may not have been since I was a kid ... I was out on west Queensland the other day cooking yabbies (that’s crayfish) on a barbecue! I haven’t done that in a long while!
“But now I get to share my own memories of living and growing up on Queensland. And I get to re-experience them all over again.” How lovely is that?