By DREW BEVERIDGE
She is no stranger to the rough waters of Hawaii, but in less than two weeks Jordan Mercer will once again cross the Molokai Channel in her biggest battle yet.
The ten-time world champion has won the gruelling 52km paddleboard Molokai2Oahu six times, and last year raced in her debut Molokai (surf ski) Challenge.
Mercer spent the majority of the surf lifesaving season recovering from a Lisfranc injury to her right foot that she suffered in November during the Nutri-Grain Ironwoman Series at Coolum.
The 25-year-old said she has since been focused on recovery to gain the best chance at championing this year’s Molokai Challenge on May 26.
“I’ve tried to put my energy towards this ocean ski title and it hasn’t forced me to rush foot rehab,” she said.
“I really have put everything I can into this prep, and it certainly hasn’t been ideal, having surgery in amongst my paddling, but it is what it is.”
Mercer said it was her positive attitude and motivation to compete again that helped her make an early comeback at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships in April, where she claimed third in the surf ski race.
“Coming off the back of a stress fracture last season I learnt it’s important to approach rehab with a healthy mindset,” she said.
“I came to realise sport is so much more than my profession.
“It was a difficult process dealing with having my passion and outlet taken away from me.”
University of the Sunshine Coast associate professor in psychology Dr Geoff Lovell said it is common for athletes to doubt their performance after injury.
“One of the major sources of self-confidence is performance accomplishment,” Dr Lovell said.
“For the athlete to truly get back on the horse and do it, they need to get back on the horse and actually do it.
“If an athlete has a very strong identity around being an elite athlete it’s important to reinforce this to themselves.”
Mercer said while she was proud to have achieved a podium finish at the Australian Championships, racing the “Channel of Bones” will be a milestone in her recovery.
“It’s a chance to feel like an elite athlete and test myself against the very best in the world,” she said.
“It’s a new craft, a new challenge, a new discipline.”
Dr Lovell said injured athletes should treat the mental side of recovery with importance.
“We will see athletes who are physically recovered but still have yet to completely psychologically recover,” he said.
“Physiological rehabilitation usually takes longer than the physical rehabilitation.”
Dr Lovell said it can take quite some time for an athlete’s “levels of confidence and mental toughness, commitment and trust in their body to get back to the pre-injury levels”.
A race of this distance is as extremely physically testing as it is mentally: competitors face treacherous conditions, dehydration and sunburn over the 52kms.
The 2018 Molokai Challenge ocean ski race took Mercer 3:55:32 to claim third.
“There’s a lot of time to think and a lot of opportunity to become focused on the injury and level of hypervigilance,” Dr Lovell said.
“Athletes need to monitor [their] body and how the injury is either preventing or not.
“You need to come up with strategies that are ways for the athlete to be distracted away from the injury.”
Mercer said her experience has taught her that on race day “it’s important to be around people that love you to keep your sanity”.
“I’ve done all I can… if anything in these final weeks it’s a mental game getting my head where it needs to be to cross the channel, but to also be the toughest mentally on the day to come out the champion,” she said.