Sport

Jackie Fairweather's husband and friend Hannah Walmsley run in memory of the triathlete legend

Star athlete remembered by devastated best friend and running companion.

Jackie Fairweather was due to meet one of her best friends, budding ACT marathon runner Hannah Walmsley, for a regular training run this Wednesday morning.

Instead, Walmsley met on Tuesday with Fairweather's soul-mate, husband Simon Fairweather, for a tribute run. It was exactly 10km.

Emma Carney and Jackie Fairweather (nee Gallagher) in the 1997 World Triathlon Championship final leg.
Emma Carney and Jackie Fairweather (nee Gallagher) in the 1997 World Triathlon Championship final leg. Photo: Tony McDonough

"It was a beautiful way to remember our best friend," Walmsley said of Fairweather, nee Gallagher, who endured a battle with depression.

"Just recently I bought her a card because I wanted her to know what a great friend she was. It said 'some people walk in and out of our lives and others leave footprints on our hearts forever'. It was on the fridge when I went there today, I'm so glad I got to tell her that.

"It was a tough journey as well as a beautiful one. She had a really tough battle with herself, she fought so hard."

Fairweather's death, on Sunday, shocked Australian sport on so many levels.

She was a world champion triathlete in Australia's golden era of the 1990s, her greatest rival, Emma Carney, "devastated" by the loss of a "fierce competitor" and friend.

She was a marathon bronze medallist at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, her coach, the legendary Dick Telford, "shocked" by the loss of a "perfectionist" in every pursuit.

Simon and Jackie Fairweather.
Simon and Jackie Fairweather. Photo: Supplied

She was a high-performance manager of many sports at the Australian Sports Commission in Canberra, chief executive Simon Hollingsworth honouring a "first-class coach" who will be "sorely missed by the many people whose lives are better for knowing her."

But to truly know Jackie Fairweather - beyond her tastes for vintage cars, dark chocolate and fine wine -  you had to run beside her. To know you wouldn't dare cut the corner on any path, or to know that every run must be rounded off to finish at an exact kilometre mark. Like exactly 10km.

"In a funny way, she was private to so many people," Walmsley said. "Some days it would take up to 15km [into a run] to get her to switch off and relax.

"Running for us was the most beautiful way to bond. We connected so much, we shared everything. Running has this incredible way of allowing you to open up ... we talked about absolutely everything -  her professional days, our jobs, our relationships with our husbands and our families.

"The love Jackie had for Simon was the most incredible gift to her, he was her best friend and they were soul-mates."

Simon Fairweather, an Olympic gold medal archer from the Sydney 2000 Games, married Gallagher in 2004. Some have described them as the perfect odd couple.

But so, too, were Jackie Fairweather, who would have been 47 next week, and Walmsley, 26.

They only met in 2008, when Fairweather took Telford's small ACT running group for a period he was overseas.

"We used to talk about that a lot, how two people of different ages and different life experiences became so close. It was a really special friendship," Walmsley said.

"Jac drove me to my wedding last year in her beautiful car Ruby, a 1963 white Porsche.

""She was an incredible coach because she cared so much about everyone as individuals. She wasn't just a coach and mentor, she was a friend, and a damned good one, absolutely one of my best mates."

It was Telford who coaxed Fairweather to switch to marathon, just eight months before the 2002 Commonwealth Games. She took bronze, despite doubling as Australia's triathlon coach.

"She was the first marathoner I prepared for a major championship that was training less than her coach," Telford said, laughing. "She always put her triathletes before her own training.

"She was a smart cookie too, I used to think she had a great future as an administrator. She was a great organiser, had good academic qualifications, impeccable qualifications as an athlete and I thought 'wow, wouldn't she be a great person to run the Institute of Sport'."

"She was an absolute perfectionist ... I sometimes think that might have been her downfall, with the depression."

Carney and Fairweather were part of Australia's female domination of international triathlon in the 1990s, the pair combining with Michellie Jones and Loretta Harrop to win six world championships in that decade.

Fairweather broke through for the 1996 world title, but also finished with the silver medal three times, including behind Carney in 1997. The pair were inducted into the Triathlon Australia Hall of Fame together in 2012.

"Jackie was a perfectionist and I think perhaps Jackie never really appreciated – or realised -  all that she achieved," Carney said.  

"It wasn't just the races she won, or the sports she excelled in - Jackie was a pioneer in Australian triathlon coaching and administration. In her own way, Jackie always got things done. I will cherish the battles I had with Jackie."

Walmsley, who completed her first marathon last year, will continue to race in memory of her good friend.

"She's lived a rich and full life and she'll be forever loved by us. We'll miss her every day, but she'll be there on our shoulder when we race."