I know I can be special
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
Bella Bayliss is a superstar of the highest order. She is one of the legends who is humble and hard.
"I know I can be special, I just know it!"
These are the words said to me with a tinge of desperation, a drop of defeatism, a speck of disillusionment , a crack in the voice, all the while with an expression of hope.
This very different young woman had me feeling sad, that up to now she just hadn't found what she could be special at but her common sense was now starting to eat away her confidence that she one day could be special at something. Why different? that's easy; I was looking at a straight pink hair cut that spiked up out of her head ,rather unusual clothes scheme her little ankle tattoo and the most open truthful set of eyes you could look into.
The next time we meet for a real get serious talk, the young lady had transformed into a bright aqua blue head of hair, and as we ran along the shores of lac valley d Joux, me trying to get a fix on what I could do to help this young lass, the sweat had started to do its job and blue streaks were now down the side of the face , along her back as she was trying to impress me by dropping me on the run, the vivid colors reminds me of the movie Avatar, but she was still no nonsense didn't give a shit, this is me and like it or lump it.
You would be forgiven into thinking you were looking at a female William Wallace with the blue hair dye running down her face now,as she uttered the words that so effected me.
So much has changed and so little has changed about the girl from the Scottish highlands, watching the refined young mother, all grown up playing with her son in the pool,, watching her now give advice to her coaching pupils, but let me tell you Bella Comerford now Bella Bayliss, is still the same girl , still has the same value , still the same no nonsense attitude to life, but as the curtain comes down on her career , the girl that described herself as 'I cant swim, I don't bike that good either, I'm not a natural runner, but I can hurt more than most ' will be leaving the racing scene, knowing she made herself special, very special.
This is her story, it's as amazing as it is true, as its a tale not many of us can relate to but all should know why Bella Bayliss made herself special. Bella is an enigma in triathlon because of her simple yet complex personality. Not many if any triathletes around the world know of her as a person or as a great athlete. Blowing ones own trumpet, is not one of Bella's strengths.
I talk to most recent squad athletes it becomes so apparent they know so little about Bella. Comments like "oh 'she is so disciplined, no nonsense and no fun girl" have me wanting to show the tri world that one of their unsung heroes was anything but 'no fun'.
The stories over the years I could tell, nobody does long eyelashes, 9 inch pumps and sparkles better than a young Bella, just as, seeing her standing outside a hospital, bashing on the door wearing nothing more than underwear as she valiantly tried and did save a team mate who was taken very very ill at 3am in the morning.
Or watching Bella fall off the bike on the first lap of a long course race in Ibiza ,and then ride 80km in one gear till the finish and with blood everywhere, set out on the run, and what does she ask the coach on arriving in bike transition?
"How far am I down on the leader? Do you think I can run her down?"
That day it was no easy catch, the leader was a very young Emma Snowsill, and Bella did do the unthinkable, ran her down to take the win! Yes a modern day William Wallace, blood caked over her face, a little smile and a shake of the head as she mumbled "that was a tough day coach", as she was lead away to the ambulance.
So many stories of fun, courage and honor. How many after getting a podium podium would refuse the organizers request to shake hands with a confessed drug cheat, but rather gave a lecture that, we should shun not appease, we should stand up to such unacceptable behaviour. Did the boos bother her? It must of hurt, but as with most things Bella was right in her stand and dam the consequences.
Then there is the kindness. At present Bella is training an athlete who she races and has managed to train her to beat herself. Did this phase her? When I asked should I find her another coach? Bella answered
'coach, I'm proud to train her to beat me, that is my job. You taught me that, to give 100% nothing less .'
Well readers, I never had to teach her that at all, it was and still is her best quality. Everything is done to 100% with Bella Comerford nee Bayliss, it comes with the package.
Here is the beginnings told by Bella and I fill in the rest as she too modest to 'blow her own horn' I'll do that, as she deserves people to know the real champ, I've had the privilege to know and work with over 13yrs.
The doc - where did you grow up Bella ?
Bella I grew up between 1 and 6 in a very remote part of Scotland called Corgaff , we had 4 pupils in our school, it was very close to Scotland's one ski area at Lecht in the Scottish Highlands. The house we lived in had no electricity, my Mum told me it was so cold there we at times had frost on the inside of our windows in our little home.
From there we moved to Aberdeenshire, this was less remote, the local school had 14 pupils. Best way to describe it, still a pretty cold place. Dad had bought some acres and decided to live off the land while he built our home himself. During this time we lived in a caravan on the property. Still quite young, I can remember going to an outside toilet but I must admit I just didn't know any better; no water out of the taps didn't seem a real bother to me or my family. It took a few years for Dad to fiish our home and it was not till later in life that I was made aware how different my kid years were.
doc what was your first introduction to sport ? Bella Well, to be honest, I was horse mad as a child. My dad decided he wanted to plow our paddocks old school and thought it would be cool to get a horse to pull a hand plow. He bought a horse, that was soon seen as completely mental, after Dad broke it in to the plow, every now and then he would put me up on top, and I sat on the neck as dad plowed with her. It wasn't long till I was able to sit on her by myself but being such a handful, she would take off with me on. That mad little horse would go for what seemed like hours , and I just loved it! It was like going on a big adventure to me every time we took off.
This lead to my family taking me to pony club. I can still remember our little pony was misbehaving as usual and I was standing out in the wrong way. Then to finish the whole experience, the star pupil was standing next to me and my mental horse kicked her expensive beautiful pony, to finish the whole day .However, I was very lucky that a family either took pity or a liking to me, wanting me to continue and they lent me one of their ponies , and so my horse riding career was underway. I couldn't wait to get to pony club and I started to compete in everything: x-country, over jumps, dressage, I just couldn't get enough. Because we lived in a remote area there was a lot traveling involved.
As I progressed thru the ranks, it became very expensive. We were a normal family and to be one of the top girls you are hindered by the quality of the horse you were riding. You are very limited to how far you can go in the sport if you are not rich or have a rich sponsor. The other options when you love horses is to ride work and looking after race horses or gain your qualifications to teach horse riding at the pony clubs. At 17, I left home to join a full-time training course to be a qualified instructor at the Marc Phillips Glen Eagles Equestrian Center. **** I will break in here , to explain, that Bella may have indeed been special in the horse area if she had the financial means. Many many good riders just don't have the means to fulfil their dreams in this area. Bella, I'm told was a very courageous and talented horsewoman. She became a fully qualified instructor from the most prestigious school in the country . Back to Bella **** The horse period; at around 15 I had a boyfriend who was a great hill run racer. We had this specific type of race in Scotland and he used to take me with him to the races and I got hooked. Then Mum introduced me to the triathlon as it had horse riding and running in it. I taught my self to swim and I was again doing a new sport that had all the elements I was passionate about. This lead to my first triathlon at around age 17, so i now had to learn to ride a bike. When you are working with horses it's a 12 hour day with 1 day a month off. It's a labor of love that's for sure but, now I was frustrated because I had caught the triathlon bug, I needed more time to train, and that was never going to happen while I was working with horses.
Doc - so you wanted to test your self in triathlon? Bella While I loved horses, I just knew there was not time to train and test myself. I just felt that settling into being an instructor was not what I wanted at such a young age. So I took a job at Edinburgh airport as a security agent. Yes I was the lady with the magic wand that annoys every person that gets a red light going thru the scanner. I was chuffed as I thought I was working only 8 hours a day and had the weekends off. Could train before work and after it.
So I threw myself into it with all my usual give it all, by this time I had a triathlon coach, John O'Donovan (you sat next to him at my wedding), he was brilliant for me at this time, gave me direction and confidence I could keep improving.
Doc Yes I did and what a wonderful nigh,, Bella had the knack of finding the right coaches, as I sat next to John he was explaining his last weeks adventure with his wife; they were doing an open sea kayak paddle. 'Nothing to strenuous, about 25 mile depending on the currents,' But they had a little trouble one of the guys they went with, half way through the paddle he gave up (or gave out I would suspect.)
'bit of a current against us but really he should have been fine, me and the Mrs hooked him up and took him back to base.'
'well that ruined a good paddle' I said
'Not at all, we dropped him off and got going again, as it was a beautiful day , water temp was good around 14C. Could have been higher but we were not going to waste the day.'
yes John understand completely, err not! as you get the picture, John was a hard bastard too!
Bella As I improved, I then transferred to Aberdeen airport to terrorize the locals there coming thru the x-ray machines, to be closer to my coach, as triathlon was now taking over my life, every minute was taken up with sleep eat work and train. Again I thought how lucky I was being able to train while working. How difficult it was I never really understood until I look back now. In the winter, it was bitterly cold and because of work I was riding and running early morning and late afternoon. It was always pitch black and freezing. I just got my head down and did it and thought of the weekend when I could train in the light and go racing. It was a special time, but it was tough.
How tough? As I said, only become evident to me when I became a full-time triathlete. Pro squad work in some camps started at 7.30 am, I used to think half the day was gone before we even started. What is this I used to think, these pros have got it easy.
Doc - When I meet you, you were with my old friend Dr Darren Smith. Bella yes Darren had become the national coach of Scotland, and John being the great person he is suggested the next level beckoned for me. We kept in touch and I moved into the Scottish program with Darren where I spent a couple of years traveling and learning more and more about triathlon, and worked towards my ultimate goal or what I thought it would be, to represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games.
That was my special. If I could just do that, I was thinking it would be all worth while . I was in awe of Annie Emmerson, who was on your team at the time. I thought she was brilliant and as I couldn't swim that good I did a number of duathlons with her and we hit it off. She was the one that said if you want to give triathlon a real crack, you should talk to Brett , 'he is a great swim coach and has improved me no end' so we first met at a duathlon in Calais in France, and Annie said, 'here is your chance go talk to him". I did and that is where, I met the doc!
**** After meeting Bella, I was intrigued by her forthright attitude in our talk and her obvious desire to be better. It was also a very pertinent moment in triathlon coaching history, as at the time Dr. Darren Smith was trying the shed his sports scientist label to become a real coach. I will be honest, I always had certain reservations of how he would do in the world of fallibility that pro athletes are. We had a talk about Bella and I left with 2 impressions:
that I would work with Bella Comerford with his blessing , but also
he was going to make it as a top coach.
That meeting showed me how far he had come and that his guiding principle is what is best for his athlete. Mixed with his knowledge I could see he had turned his white coat inside out and got about the business of the art of coaching. In subsequent years he not only proved he could coach but went on to be the best Olympic distance coach on the planet.
It was truly a touching moment, to have a man with 3 times my education, 2 times my intelligence say 'mate, you and your way will fit Bella like a glove., Bella and I struggle at times to get on the same wave length. .I think you can help her, relieve some of her frustration. I would not only be fine with it but would advise it as her best option going forward.
That defining moment, the selflessness of a young coach, was the reason for Bella Bayliss becoming special. Our getting to know each other period was rather short. We did some preliminary work and our team was on its way to what was to become a full blown Brazilian adventure in itself! (but that is for another story.) Bella joined her hero Annie ,and we arrived in a small out back town of Sao Carlos, 4 hours and three coffee stops drive from Sao Paulo the capital of Brazil.
The training was as brutal as was our training facilities. I had gone there to start working with a Brazilian partner on a team and social project, so facilities were not our priority. We worked out on a private farm for safety, which had a 2km bike road, an 800m bike loop, we would ride to a 25m pool, with a dirt 400m track. We ran in a cow paddock, yes with cows in it. It was my job to lead the run and scare the cows out of the road. On our long run we would go down the main road and the pollution coming out of the old trucks would suffocate you, all the while Bella just ate it up, trained like some one on a suicide mission.
I suppose in a way she was. Bella had this burning desire to represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games. Our first dispute was this problem as I saw it , as I didn't see Bella as a short course athlete at all. She being swim challenged was always busting her arse to catch up on the bike , and would finally do it with the main bunch at races about 2 klm from the end of the run race , the front pack long gone , but she would just hurt her way into the middle of the race.
I had told her that what I believe she was special in, was hurting.
Putting up with pain levels that most competitors could not and to use that she would have to consider going long. To stay with me, she would not have to consider but actually go long. Bella has this unique ability to never mince words, never talks behind your back, and if a spoon can do the job, then she will bring a spade to make sure the job gets done properly. Bella if you get the picture, is not frightened to give any one a piece of her mind, especially the coach.
So after my laying down the law, her retort was simple: