Surprising lessons for accountants from an Ironman

In his first season as a Nutri-Grain Ironman, Atkinson worked for a Sydney accounting firm.

Tom Atkinson juggled full‑time careers as accountant and sportsman and learned lessons for both.

ANNUALLY, THE Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series exposes 35 of Australia’s elite surf athletes to the most gruelling ocean-based competition on the planet, a six-round endurance event comprising swim, board and ski legs contested at some of the country’s most iconic beaches.

The first national surf sports competition began in Australia in 1915 with the inaugural “Aussies”’, but it wasn’t until the 1980s hit movie Coolangatta Gold that a professional Ironman racing circuit was established, with heroes like Grant Kenny, Trevor Hendy and Guy Leech at the forefront for many years.

For almost 30 years sponsors have teamed up with the national body, Surf Life Saving Australia, to offer a commercially viable circuit that is perfectly packaged for TV.

Last summer accountant Tom Atkinson CPA was the sole New South Wales (NSW) male representative on the circuit, up against full‑time athletes representing Queensland – the state that lures the best of the best to its golden beaches, thanks to its coaching program and world-class training facilities.

What made the then 27-year-old Atkinson even more special was that he alone among the competitors had a full-time day job.

In his first season as a Nutri-Grain Ironman, Atkinson worked for a Sydney accounting firm.
He fitted his training regime around work hours and filled the staff fridge with the supplements and food he needed as fuel for training.

Two years ago Atkinson took the leap to the family business, which offered greater flexibility and opportunity, joining the family’s full-service accounting firm, Peer Wealth.

Atkinson’s vision was to build up the Sydney client base while his brother ran the Forster office on the NSW mid-north coast and his CPA dad, Doug, alternated between the two.
Atkinson first qualified for the professional Ironman circuit in 2010, fulfilling a goal he’d cooked up with the much younger Saxon Bird, who was killed in an accident at the Australian Surf Life Saving National Championships not long after.

This left Atkinson to go it alone and not only did he qualify at his first attempt, he requalified for the next two seasons – an extraordinary result given the pressure he was under with a full-time career and up to 18 training sessions every week.

Tom Atkinson

Tom Atkinson

Of Atkinson’s gruelling schedule, business mentor and Ironman coach James Brooks from Sydney’s Newport Surf Life Saving Club says: “If anything I was trying to get Tom to do less, I knew he was living on not a lot of asleep.

He surpassed my expectations week in and week out and refused to take shortcuts.”

Brooks says working kept Atkinson’s feet on the sand. “Because Tom was so passionate and excited about his new business, he kept the sport in perspective. It wasn’t the end of the world if he scored a poor result.”

The pressure of elite-level competition also taught Atkinson the importance of commitment – that’s why he is taking this season off to focus on building Peer Wealth. “You can do all the training, but if you go in at 90 per cent you won’t get the result.”

While he hasn’t ruled out rejoining the pro circuit, for now the scales have tipped the other way.

Instead, he’s putting his time into working with the next batch of young hopefuls from his club – fulfilling the premise that has made the surf lifesaving movement one of the largest volunteer-based organisations in Australia, with close to 167,000 members.

Surf clubs are mostly built on members donating their time and fundraising, and Brooks says Atkinson is one of his club’s most consistent and passionate contributors.

“Tom does more than anyone. At the end of a fundraising barbecue for the club, he’ll be the one who stays back and cleans the hotplate. There’s not many like that.”
This article is from the November 2013 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.

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