A TASMANIAN coach once told James Hodge that he would never make a triathlete.
``You're too big and you can't run - you will never be any good at triathlons.''
Those words have motivated the 19-year-old Launceston athlete ever since.
``I always remember that and I think about it before every race and it motivates me to go hard,'' Hodge said.
Despite being one of the brightest talents in the country and having some impressive results, Hodge has been ignored by Triathlon Australia and has achieved success off his own bat.
He financed his own trip to Beijing in 2011 and returned home a world champion in his age group.
Having turned professional in May last year, the radiography-health science student moves to Wagga Wagga this weekend to finish the final three years of his university degree.
Hodge has decided to step up to the longer distance 70.3 races, consisting of a 1.9-kilometre swim, 90km bike ride and 21km run - compared to the 1500m, 40km and 10km Olympic distances.
He surprised everyone, including himself, by winning his first one, the Busselton 70.3 in Western Australia in May last year against some of the best long-distance triathletes in the country.
He then overcame a stress fracture in the foot and a bike crash injury to finish sixth in the Canberra 70.3 in December.
A fifth-place in the Asia-Pacific 70.3 championships followed in Auckland in January behind the highly-credentialled Christian Kemp and two-time New Zealand Olympic medallist Bevan Docherty and a third in the Geelong long course two weeks ago again behind Kemp and Luke Bell.
``I had never done a 70.3 before Busselton and I was stoked that I was lining up next to those big guys like Matty White, Luke Bell and Luke McKenzie who I'd just read about in magazines,'' he said.
``To race against them and pull off a win pretty convincingly was pretty good.''
Hodge said he made the move from ITU Olympic distance triathlons to the longer course because there were more of them and as non-drafting events they suited him more because `` the best athlete wins at the end of the day''.
``My strength is my bike leg and I can build a substantial lead there if it is non-drafting where you have to maintain a 12-metre gap.''
He plans to continue to compete around Australia while finishing his degree with an eye to heading to the US to chase bigger prizemoney.
``I'm really liking the longer distances because you have a lot longer to plan your races and adjust if something goes wrong during the race,'' he said.
``Each time I race I'm learning more about how to race smarter.''
Juggling university studies and triathlon training is demanding and he thought unfair on a full-time coach - so he trains himself.
Hodge has adjusted his training to prepare for the longer triathlons picking up bits and pieces of advice wherever he can including from other triathletes on Twitter.
Having turned his focus to 70.3 half-ironmans, he knows he will never be able to earn Olympic selection for Australia, but is unfazed.
He prefers to look ahead to one day competing in the world 70.3 championships which he regards as the pinnacle of his sport.
``The half ironman worlds in Las Vegas are the ones I'm aiming for and within the next five or six years I want to try and get there.''
Hodge will head back to Busselton in May to defend his title and then compete in a new 70.3 in Mooloolaba in September.
He is hoping his good results continue and will bring with them much-needed sponsorship dollars.
``I am pleased with my results so far and never expected to finish top five in nearly every race.
``Especially to finish top five in the Asia-Pacific championships in New Zealand - I was stoked with 43 pro-males racing.
``Some of the elite guys tweeted me after it and said to move up to Lennox Heads and train with them but I couldn't do that - I have other stuff to do.''